When MU Chancellor Brady Deaton spoke with students Thursday evening, he answered some tough questions about MU policies, many of them centering on the rising cost of education at the university.
“It is increasing, and it’s very hard for us to pay for school,” said Lacey Hanson, a journalism student and Cabinet member of the Missouri Students Association, who is concerned about rising tuition.
Deaton spoke to students in the Memorial Union North’s lounge area while the MU School of Music jazz band warmed up for its performance next door. In addition to the students seated on couches and in chairs around the lounge, those passing by stopped occasionally to listen.
Deaton named insufficient funding from the state as one of MU’s biggest problems.
The Missouri General Assembly has decreased funding for higher education by $158 million during the past three years. MU is ranked in the lowest 25 percent of schools in the Association of American Universities for state support and ranks in the upper 30 percent in tuition costs.
When Gov.-elect Matt Blunt spoke to the Governor’s Conference on Higher Education in Columbia on Wednesday, he focused on streamlining university operations to use existing funds more efficiently, and he touted his proposed “truth in tuition” program that would require Missouri universities to provide students a four-year estimate of college expenses when they enroll in school.
“That’s an attractive idea, always,” Deaton said Thursday. “The difficulty in recent years has been that the amount of money from the state is unpredictable.”
As a result, the chancellor said, predicting educational costs for four years can be somewhat problematic. MU does provide tuition and cost of living estimates for the upcoming semester.
Access to the university for lower-income families is also an issue that Deaton said MU needs to address. “As an economist, I’m very concerned about income distribution,” he said.
Deaton said he has been working with UM system President Elson Floyd and the chancellors of other universities within the system to present the legislature with proposals for increased scholarships.
Deaton also said MU has been turning toward outside sources of revenue to provide for its expenses and allows some cushion from uncertain state funding. Deaton said that of the $200 million MU spends on research each year, only $40 million is provided by the state. The remaining $160 million comes from outside sources such as grants.
Students also questioned Deaton about MU’s growing enrollment, which is at about 27,000 students; Deaton hopes to raise that number to 30,000 in the next few years. Students were concerned that swelling numbers may place a strain on the university’s infrastructure, causing space shortages in classrooms, residence halls and parking lots.
But Deaton said managing such growth is a planning priority at MU, citing MU’s master plan that addresses issues such as infrastructural needs. He said the university will not allow growth to compromise the quality of education.
As for the crowded parking lots, Deaton said he would like to limit the number of cars coming to campus. A proponent of a pedestrian campus, the chancellor said he would like to see discussion on the topic.
After the formal question-and-answer session, Deaton remained to talk to students individually. By the time he finished, the jazz band’s concert was in full swing.