Higher education leaders report to House committee

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 | 8:01 p.m. CST; updated 6:37 a.m. CST, Thursday, January 30, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — Politics halt at the door when the House Appropriations Committee for Education convenes, Chairman Mike Lair said. Politics never make the guest list. 

"We're all pro-education here, and we don't let politics come in this room," the Republican from Chillicothe said, with his hand sweeping over the room from his seat. 

Instead, the committee focuses on education. The committee had just heard two days of testimony from representatives of Missouri's higher education institutions. Some of those included the UM System, the Harris-Stowe State University, Northwest Missouri State University, Truman State University and Missouri Western State University. 

Lair said the committee roots for the educators and the school but the committee must make hard decisions to reach a balanced budget. Its mission is to figure out how much money is available and where to distribute it. 

"It's got to be our job to see what's the best bang for our buck," he said. "What are we getting back out from the funding for higher education?" 

To answer that question, the committee asks the higher education institutions: 

  1. How does your institution measure graduate success? What do these measures indicate? 
  2. What percentage of your institution's budget is devoted to institutional scholarships? How has this percentage changed over the past 10 years? 
  3. How is out-of-state tuition calculated at your institution? Are any out-of-state students allowed to pay in-state tuition? 

"If you don't ask specifically what you're looking for, you get cheerleading," Lair said.

He said the institutions share many problems like finding funding for maintaining and repairing buildings and infrastructure and working on keeping accreditation for various programs. 

Tom Richards, UM interim vice president of finance and treasurer, testified that funding for the system would go toward these shared issues, along with improving the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics facilities and programs on the campuses. 

In answering the committee's three questions, Richards said the retention rate for freshman and sophomores is a strong indicator of a student's successful completion in higher education. The retention rate for Fall 2008 through Fall 2010 was 83 percent, which exceeds the 82.3 percent benchmark. The university also reports the success rates of students on professional or occupational licensure tests, he said.

Richards told the committee the university had increased its institutional aid, composed of tuition discounts and scholarships, to $201 million in Fiscal Year 2013 from $119 million in Fiscal Year 200. Aid from 9.5 percent of total fund expenditures to 11 percent of total fund expenditures over this period, he added.

When it comes to in-state status, Richards' report stated, a student must meet the residency requirements set by the Missouri Department of Higher Education. The report did not mention how out-of-state tuition is calculated.

With testimony ending Wednesday before the committee, the members will now look through the higher education's budget book line by line.

Next week, they'll hear from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The committee must have its version of the budget finished by Feb. 20, when it will go to the House Budget Committee. 

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