Nick Droege is a senior studying biological sciences at MU. He is the president of the Missouri Students Association and the founder of Tiger Pantry, a food pantry for students.
The University of Missouri has for years walked an uphill track in Jefferson City. We have watched time and time again as our core appropriations are cut — and the tuition hikes that those cuts inevitably cause. Reducing Missouri’s investment in its future simply so that businesses can keep more of their money is dangerous and shortsighted. It ignores the fundamental truth that this state’s next chapter will be written by its next generation of leaders. These leaders do not appear from thin air — they are found, taught and nurtured by our education system. If something does not change, our state’s public universities – Mizzou included – will soon be unable to accomplish this vital task.
House Bill 253 was another step down that perilous path. It was another step towards a place where the needs of next quarter outweigh the needs of our shared future. Students on this campus recognized the danger – and acted with force to protect Missouri’s Flagship University. In one week, we signed hundreds of letters making our views known to local representatives. I and 400 others attended a student-created event with campus leaders and legislators, where we learned more about House Bill 253 and made our voice heard on the choice between slanted tax cuts and education. Missouri politicians are officially on notice that students are tired of being the target – and ready to fight back.
As a student that pays for my own college education, the threat that House Bill 253 posed to higher education in the state of Missouri was alarming. A bill that blatantly disregards the mission of public education institutions statewide: To provide a high quality higher education for those that have demonstrated ability and willingness to learn.
Did it say that funding would be cut from higher education directly in the fiscal note? No, it did not. However, when the state faces shortfalls there are three areas that commonly face reductions: corrections, Medicaid and education. Based off this known fact and visible history, it is ignorant to say that the UM System would not have seen significant cuts to funding. Tuition increases were much more than just a potential outcome; they would have been a reality. Historically speaking, every time there is a dip in state funding, a hike in tuition follows shortly after.
The future success of higher education is widely dependent on how the Missouri legislature decides to view it. Will they see it as an opportunity to invest in Missouri’s future? Or will it be seen as a financial burden on the state?
From students’ perspective, it feels like the latter of those two viewpoints right now. When evaluating accessibility of higher education, it is becoming increasingly crucial to broaden our definitions of accessibility. Still, the number one reason why students cannot continue their education is financial insecurity. For years, we have focused time, energy and resources on giving more students the opportunity to get to college, and now that we have, we need to make sure they have the resources necessary to stay here.
As the representative of our student body here at Mizzou, I have made it a priority throughout my time in office to uncover those needs of students that are seemingly invisible. Financial insecurity is a predominant issue on our campuses that cannot be determined by simply looking. It takes a combination of conversation, background research, and willingness to test models to find those resources that students really need to get them through.
Take Tiger Pantry, for example, the food pantry I started on Mizzou’s campus nearly a year ago. We had very little data to support the need outside of financial aid statistics, and now it has served over 1,200 clients. Sometimes numbers are not a good enough reason to act, that is why data informed decisions are often much better than data driven ones. When it comes to the issue of tax reform, this is an especially critical point.
Next legislative session, undoubtedly this conversation will come up again. I hope at that time, legislators will reach across the aisle to come up with a solution that offers relief to our taxpayers, incentives to our businesses, and most importantly a foundation that continues to support our students in their efforts to better themselves and better the great State of Missouri. Our ability to compete in a global economy in the future is dependent on providing a high quality education today.
This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.