While several speakers painted a dire picture for the future of higher education funding, the majority of Missouri’s education leaders, gathered for a symposium Tuesday at the Reynolds Alumni Center, agreed that better dialogue could lead to real improvements.
Education consultant Dennis Jones said that because the state, higher education institutions and students all have their own agendas, the only way funding will improve is by finding a way to align everyone’s priorities.
Jones is president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, a Boulder, Colo., nonprofit organization that seeks to help education administrators improve their management.
State Rep. Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, echoed Jones’ sentiment. He said a large problem legislators face is a lack of consistent communication.
“We don’t have a continuity of an understanding of what happens in the higher education community,” Bearden said.
Being transparent about priorities and ideas became the theme at the symposium, which was sponsored by the MU College of Education and the Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs. More than 50 legislators and faculty members attended.
In his keynote address, Charles McClain, former president of Truman State University and a former commissioner at the state Department of Higher Education, attributed a large part of Missouri’s education funding problems to the General Assembly, who he said have put the issue on the back burner for the past decade. He stressed how higher education has received a significantly smaller portion of the state’s budget than elementary and secondary education.
Missouri is not alone in facing issues when it comes to funding higher education.
Ronald Teck, a Republican state senator from Colorado who took part in a panel discussion, said that between 2000 and 2005, Colorado lost $159.6 million in higher education funding from the state, a 21.3 percent decrease. If action is not taken, Teck said, his state may be the first to entirely “de-fund” higher education.
If the nation is unable to find a solution to the higher education funding problems he sees in Missouri, Colorado and elsewhere, Jones said more serious ramifications could follow.
“We’re well on our way to becoming a second class economic power,” he said.