UM approves fee increases, will vote on tuition increases in late February

Friday, February 3, 2012 | 4:27 p.m. CST; updated 9:26 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 4, 2012

KANSAS CITY — More with less was the theme of the UM System Board of Curators' first meeting of 2012.

The curators met Thursday and Friday at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and reviewed options to help bridge the gap created by Gov. Jay Nixon's proposed 15.1 percent cut to higher education this year.

The UM System's governing body discussed proposals to raise tuition and fees at the four UM campuses to help cover the gap. The board did not vote on tuition increases Friday — that is expected to come later this month — but did approve increases to some supplemental fees.

Approved fee increases at MU include a 3.3 percent increase to the information technology fee and supplemental course fee increases to some MU colleges and schools:

  • 32.8 percent to the Trulaske College of Business courses
  • 18.3 percent to the Missouri School of Journalism courses
  • 15.7 percent to the School of Health Professions courses
  • 10.4 percent to the College of Engineering courses

The board is deciding how to cope with cuts to higher education that would put the UM System at the same level of state support it received in the mid 1990s.

Interim System President Steve Owens said the system is following the governor's request to use efficiencies and cost management to help bridge the gap created by declining state support before the board makes any decisions to raise tuition.

After the meeting, Owens said the system has been trying to communicate that it's already turned to other cost management measures and still faces a budget gap of more than $50 million.

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

State of the University

In his State of the University address Friday morning, Owens said the system has had great success over the past year in spite of cuts in state support, but he also asked how much longer the system can do more with less.

"The state of the university is that we need bold, new ideas beyond our boundaries," Owens said.

He stressed to the board that the system needs new, more creative ways to find new revenue sources and nudge the system away from its reliance on state funding.

While many colleges and universities nationwide are making cuts — the UM System included — Owens said the focus needs to shift to what he called growth and change ideas: positive ways to find new and more revenue instead of solely initiating more cuts.

During their panel discussion Friday morning, the four UM System chancellors talked about ways that each campus is creating private partnerships and finding ways to increase revenue through research and economic development. MU Chancellor Brady Deaton pointed to the MU Life Science Business Incubator as an example of both.

But Amy Johnson, new student representative to the board, reminded the curators and chancellors that the first mission of the system is to serve its students and teaching mission, not just to create businesses and jobs around the state.

Curator Don Downing voiced a similar concern, acknowledging that while economic development is beneficial for everyone, the system needs to focus on providing for itself considering the continued cuts to state support this year.

So now what?

Following the board's meeting Friday, Owens said that if the governor's proposed cuts to higher education are passed as is, tuition increases and workforce reductions for the system are inevitable.

Workforce reductions could include layoffs, Owens said, but also means that some open positions will continue to go unfilled.

On Thursday, several curators voiced their concern that the board needs to find a way to retain the proposed merit-based faculty salary increases in the system's next budget.

To do that, curators said Thursday, the system will need to generate more revenue and continue to make cuts. The board discussed the possibility of cutting some non-academic programs from the system campuses but didn't make any specific recommendations.

"This is really hard to digest, it's hard to accept," Curator Warren Erdman said Thursday. "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."

The board will hold a special meeting later in February to vote on a tuition increase proposal, and if the curators approve the proposed increases, the system will have to file a waiver to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education to avoid a penalty for increasing in-state tuition above the rate of inflation, a cap imposed by Senate Bill 389.

The board is also without two members after Judith Haggard stepped down Jan. 17 and Craig Van Matre's name was withdrawn from the Senate on Thursday when it became clear senators would not confirm his appointment to the board.

Those positions will need to be filled by appointments made by the governor.

This was the final meeting as interim president for Owens, who will resume his position as general counsel. Tim Wolfe will take over as system president on Feb. 15.

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