As this week’s UM Board of Curators meeting approaches, students are protesting the proposal of a 7.5 percent increase in educational fees, or tuition, on the table for a vote.
“A lot of students are opposed to an increase of more than 3 to 5 percent,” said Joshua Judy, academic affairs committee chairman for MU’s Missouri Students Association Senate.
A 7.5 percent increase translates to an extra $14.60 per credit hour for in-state undergraduates, or $219 per semester based on an average 15 credit hours. If approved by the board at Thursday’s meeting in St. Louis, the increase would take effect for the summer semester.
“I know some students that budget for summer school, and for them to come up with more money right away is a lot to ask some students,” Judy said.
On March 17, MSA passed a resolution asking for no more than inflationary increases in educational fees.
Additionally, on March 19, the day before MU’s spring break, Judy circulated a petition asking Chancellor Richard Wallace and the board to keep a tuition increase reasonable — between 3 percent and 5 percent, or what he said is the rate of inflation.
Close to 200 people signed the one-day petition, Judy said.
The educational fees increase stems from reduced state appropriations. In the last two years, the state has cut higher-education funding by 14 percent, and UM has seen its budget shrink by $158 million over the last three years because of these cuts and withholdings. Beginning in 2001, students saw larger increases in tuition each year, compared with the annual fee increases of about 3 percent for the previous five years.
Last July marked the first time that educational fees made up a larger part of UM’s operating budget than state appropriations. Assuming that state appropriations for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, are similar to those from this year, Nikki Krawitz, UM system vice president for finance and administration, anticipates a similar makeup of the operating budget. The summer semester is considered part of the 2005 fiscal year.
Although this would be the third year in a row the UM system has increased fees above what it considers an inflationary rate, 7.5 percent would be the smallest of the three increases. In the 2003 fiscal year, educational fees were increased by 14.8 percent, or $20.90 per credit hour, from the year before and the 2004 fiscal year saw a 19.8 percent increase, or $32.20 per credit hour, from 2003.
“The past couple of years it hasn’t been as big of a deal because from a student perspective we’ve understood what the administration has been faced with,” said Robin Cook, national issues director for the Associated Students of the University of Missouri, referring to the state budget cuts in higher-education funding.
The difference this year, Cook said, is that the system is looking at a flat budget from the state — the system expects to be allocated the same amount of funds as last year. Why then, Cook asks, are fees being raised so much?
“The last time I checked, America’s inflation rate is not 7.5 percent,” Cook said. “More students than ever are going to be priced out of an MU education. This is going to make the University of Missouri out of reach for lower-class and middle-class students.”
According to Krawitz, it’s necessary to look at educational fees and state appropriations as two separate pots of money that start out with equal amounts in year one. If a school’s budget rises for the following year, as it tends to do because of inflation, it’s necessary to have more money to cover that cost. However, if one pot — the state appropriations pot — is only willing to give the same amount as in year one, then the second pot — educational fees — has to make up the difference.
This means that although the state is likely to appropriate the same amount of money as last year, it’s not covering its half of the inflation cost. Thus, the fee increase that students see is greater than the rate of inflation to pick up the state’s slack.
Krawitz also added that although students would see an increase in educational fees of 7.5 percent, it doesn’t mean the system is increasing expenditures by that much. A 7.5 percent increase in student fees translates to only a 1.8 percent increase in the system’s $900 million budget.
“It’s a big deal just because the tuition keeps going up, and every year it’s going up more than inflation,” said MSA vice president Kara Heppermann. “I think that really the only way to really fix the problem is in the state government. The only way the school can fix it is by cutting programs or raising tuition.”
Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said taxpayers, parents and students are again being forced to shoulder the burden of paying more for higher education because of a lack of support from the state.
“That’s really unfortunate because higher education, as all education, is really the great equalizer in our society. It is an avenue of opportunity that the state is closing the more expensive college becomes,” Harris said.
While MU is the most expensive public school in the Big 12 Conference at its current $194.60 per credit hour, when compared to its peers in the Association of American Universities, its educational fees rank in the middle.
Between now and Thursday, ASUM is working as hard as it can to get in touch with curators to let them know that the proposed increase would be hurtful to students, Cook said.
Throughout the system’s campuses, ASUM is organizing petitions asking Curators for increases that are “fairer to students,” Cook said.