Missouri’s four-year public universities have higher average tuition rates than other Big 12 Conference schools, said State Auditor Claire McCaskill in a report released Wednesday.
The audit found that over the past seven years tuition increases at Missouri’s public universities have outpaced inflation and growth in personal income levels.
“Not only are we forcing students to pay more for a college education,” McCaskill said at a press conference at the Capitol. “We’re also providing less assistance in the form of need-based and other grants and tuition assistance from the state government.”
Using data compiled by the Missouri Department of Higher Education and the Chronicle of Higher Education, the audit reports that the University of Missouri System has the highest tuition among the Big 12 Conference states — Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.
McCaskill did not criticize the state’s public colleges and universities for the tuition increases, saying they were a necessary reaction to cuts in higher education funding by state legislators.
“I think, in this building, these programs have been way too frequently the first to be cut and the last to be refunded,” she said.
UM System spokesman Joe Moore said that while funding for higher education is projected to increase by 2 percent for the coming year, the UM System ranks near the bottom of the Big 12 in state funding support.
“We have two primary sources of income — state appropriations and tuition,” Moore said.
McCaskill said that the small increase in state funding is more than negated by inflation.
“If you look at the dramatic decreases you realize that even that small tick up does not even come close to doing what we should be doing as a state in terms of helping students with their college education costs,” she said.
The audit, a follow-up to a similar report issued in 2003, said that the state’s tuition rates have increased by 27 percent over the last three years. Although that’s lower than the average increase in other Big 12 states, at an average of $5,829 for a four-year education, Missouri’s tuition is still higher than the national average.
McCaskill identified 2004 as a turning point in the cost of higher education in Missouri. That’s when tuition first overtook state appropriations as the largest income source for state universities and colleges.
“For the first time in our state’s history students and their families and loans are paying for more of college education in this state than the state is providing in terms of resources,” she said.
McCaskill’s report was issued on the same day that a Senate committee charged with examining the cost of attending college in Missouri met for the first time.
At the University of Missouri-St. Louis, a half-dozen educators and university officials told the five-person panel that lawmakers need to increase appropriations and offer more tuition assistance to low- and middle-class students who do not currently qualify for state funding.
Michael Nietzel, president of Missouri State University, said that since 1980, the state’s share of funding for Missouri universities’ operating costs has decreased from 82 percent in 1980 to 46 percent now.
Speaking on behalf of Missouri’s public universities, Barbara Dixon, the president of Truman State University, suggested that the state’s Gallagher and Guarantee grant programs be increased and combined to provide more resources for low-income students. Currently, Gallagher grants are given to students based solely on financial need; Guarantee grants are issued based partially on merit.
However, Ken Dobbins, president of Southeast Missouri State University, cautioned that consolidating those major funding programs could leave out students who do not qualify for need-based grants.
“We have to look at the students who will not have family contributions,” he said.
Committee member Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles, pointed out that many middle-class students are having to rely on merit-based aid.
Dixon said that because middle-class students are not eligible for much of the available federal funding for college and often do not qualify for merit-based aid, they must shoulder the full cost of their educations. But she said Truman State would be willing to expand merit-based scholarships. She added, however, that high ACT scores are typically linked to higher family incomes.
Nietzel pointed out that the decreases in state funding for higher education, and the resulting increase in tuition rates, are driving students to colleges and universities in other states. This “exporting” of students from their home state, where they received the first part of their education, amounts to a subsidy, he said.
“That’s 12 years of education that those states are benefiting from,” Nietzel said.
The committee is scheduled to meet again Sept. 12 in Jefferson City.