Bill would evaluate higher ed

Funding would be distributed based on the number of students.
Thursday, April 7, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:54 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Citing a growing national trend away from direct appropriations for higher education, the second-ranking Republican in the Missouri House said he wants to change the state’s method for funding public colleges and universities.

House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, said his goal is to force schools to become more receptive to student needs while increasing efficiency.

“There are great institutions in this state, and we need to fund those, but I believe at some point we need to focus on the students,” Bearden told the House Higher Education Committee on Tuesday.

Bearden’s bill would set as a base appropriation for each college and university the amount they were originally allocated in fiscal year 2002, before massive withholdings were announced. The legislation would not take effect, however, until the state is able to afford that amount. That status could take as long as five years, according to Bearden.

Subsequent appropriations for each institution would be based on the number of students the school has.

The bill would also give every Missouri citizen a limited subsidy to attend school and to establish performance requirements associated with enrollment, graduation and student satisfaction.

Higher Education Committee Chairman Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff, said the committee plans to vote on the bill next week. He anticipates provisions for appropriating money based solely on enrollment figures will be eliminated. He said the bill creates a report card system similar to one created for K-12 education and would appropriate some state money based upon the grades each college receives.

“There needs to be some kind of measure of a school’s success and a discussion on how to best bring this into higher education,” he said. “I think that if schools exceed or excel based upon the grade card, we need to reward them with more money. If they don’t achieve, I don’t think we should punish them. I think we need to ask what we need to do to help them succeed.”

University of Missouri System President Elson Floyd told the committee that the proposal fails to consider the different missions of Missouri’s colleges and universities. Schools that focus on high-cost science and medical programs, for example, need more money, he said.

“Students will be faced with increasing costs, or the programs will have to be cut,” he said.

The UM system has been criticized by some lawmakers for how it spends its money.

Richard Vedder, an economics professor at the University of Ohio, testified at Bearden’s request. He said in general, the more money a college has, the more money it wastes.

“Universities aren’t using these incremental funds, these extra monies that you give them, to make college more accessible for low-income students,” he said.

Vedder advocates using less state money to fund higher education. He said giving state money to students instead increases schools’ efficiency and provides an incentive for them to consider student needs, along with allowing legislatures to better dictate educational policy.

“The student approach allows you to achieve social and other objectives that you can’t get with funding for institutions,” Vedder said.

House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said the state must find ways to increase education spending before tweaking the appropriations process. He worries that the biggest impact of Bearden’s bill would be to shortchange both colleges and students.

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