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UPDATE: UM System Board of Curators likely to approve fee increases, continue talks about tuition

Thursday, February 2, 2012 | 8:13 p.m. CST; updated 7:14 p.m. CST, Friday, February 3, 2012

KANSAS CITY — Fees will likely increase across the four University of Missouri System campuses next year.

The UM System Board of Curators is expected to approve increases to information technology fees, special course fees and e-learning fees during its meeting at the University of Missouri-Kansas City on Friday.

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On Thursday, the board also discussed an average tuition increase of 6.5 percent proposed for the campuses, with a 7 percent increase in tuition and required fees for in-state undergraduate students at MU.

The decisions are part of a process to balance the system's budget after Gov. Jay Nixon proposed a 15.1 percent cut in state support for next year.

Curator Warren Erdman said he's heard from people asking why the cost of higher education is rising so quickly, but he argued that it's not the rising cost of education but the declining state support that's driving up costs this year.

Increasing tuition and required fees won't cover the entire gap left by cuts in state support. Nikki Krawitz, UM System vice president of finance and administration, said that if the board accepts the increases as proposed, the system will still have to account for another $54.2 million in its budget.

"Even with the proposed tuition increase, we are not trying to make up the gap that we have," Interim System President Steve Owens said. "We'll have to make it up through other things, not on the backs of students."

Curators proposed the possibility of cutting nonacademic programs from each campus but didn't identify any programs in particular and made no decisions Thursday about cuts.

'Kicking the can'

In his State of the State address, the governor singled out "administrative overhead" as one area public colleges and universities could focus on to save money and recover from state funding cuts.

The system responded Thursday in a presentation by Krawitz that touted $222 million in cost reductions over the past several fiscal years. The cost reductions include administrative efficiencies, cost management and cost avoidance measures.

But in some ways, Krawitz said, cost avoidance is just a way of "kicking the can down the road." Those costs will eventually catch up with the system and affect the teaching mission of the campuses.

In fiscal year 2011, the system deferred more than $30 million in maintenance and repairs. The system now faces nearly $1.3 billion in total facilities needs, including $576 million in deferred maintenance projects.

Deferring maintenance has been one way the system has balanced previous year's budgets without raising tuition. Over the past five years, the system has raised tuition an average of 2.7 percent per year, including two years in which UM campuses saw no tuition increases.

With tuition increases below the national average, Erdman questioned whether the previous lack of increases has put the system in financial handcuffs.

"This is really hard to digest, it's hard to accept," Erdman said. "I think we've got to keep in mind we're not balancing our budget gap in just tuition. Under this proposal, we're not even covering the reduction in state support."

Curators Erdman, Don Downing and Wayne Goode debated where cuts must be made to close the system's budget gap.

Downing said that he hopes the merit salary increases for faculty can still become a reality and that he feels for the chancellors forced to make tough decisions about campus programs.

"This is going to be a painful year, regardless of what we do with tuition," Downing said.

E-learning gets new system interface

The system also introduced a new online-learning portal at the board's meeting Thursday.

In the past five years the number of MU students enrolling in distance online courses has almost doubled. With this portal, all system students will be able to take online classes from any of the four UM campuses.

UMKC Vice Provost Mary Lou Hines said she thinks online classes offer a way for students who also have jobs to manage their schedules on their own time. She said many UMKC students "take classes in a hybrid mode," meaning they take both classes in person and online.

Through the portal, students can take some online classes or, for some programs, take all classes online. At the undergraduate level, these online classes will cost the same amount per credit hour as traditional classes and in- and out-of-state rates will still apply.

On the portal students can evaluate their teachers through an application or by posting a video with feedback. Future students considering enrolling in the class can look at the videos and statistical feedback from past students.

However, Hines said that the adjustment would be less difficult for students than it would be for teachers and that there are systems in place to provide teachers with skills to instruct the online classes.

So what's next?

The board was without Judith Haggard and Craig Van Matre during Thursday's meetings. Van Matre's name was once again withdrawn from the Missouri Senate on Thursday, when it became clear he would not be confirmed before this week's deadline. 

Both open curators positions will have to be filled by appointments from the governor.

The board meets again Friday morning and will hear reports from the board chairman and interim system president as well as a panel discussion among the chancellors before completing its regularly scheduled business.

Curators do not plan to vote on tuition increases Friday.

Krawitz said the board will have to meet in the next couple of weeks to approve the proposals, which would require submitting a waiver request to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education to raise resident, undergraduate tuition above the rate of inflation.

Making a firm decision on the increases soon is essential, Krawitz said. Once her office can count on revenue from tuition and fee increases, the system can make recommendations on how to cover the remaining budget gap.

Columbia Missourian higher education reporter Zach Murdock will be reporting from the board's meetings in Kansas City on Friday. Follow his reporting on Twitter at @CoMissourian and with the hashtag #umcurators.


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