JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri’s four-year public universities are a bargain for some out-of-state students when compared with nearby states, even while state residents continue to pay the highest tuition among Big 12 Conference states, according to an audit released Wednesday.
The report from Auditor Susan also found that the state has no written policy for setting nonresident tuition. It recommended that the Missouri Department of Higher Education formulate a set of criteria that the institutions could use to set those tuition rates.
Last fiscal year, a nonresident paid an average tuition of $11,709 at the state’s public four-year institutions, ranking eighth out of 11 states. The comparison states included all those with a Big 12 conference school, as well as Tennessee, Illinois and Arkansas.
But the audit also repeated findings released last year that showed the average amount of tuition charged at all the Missouri institutions, $5,829, was the highest among Big 12 states, and trailed only Illinois in surrounding states.
The low tuition rates do not cover the cost of educating the nonresidents, and the lack of a written policy makes it difficult to determine if there is some valid reason why the state might want to have lower nonresident tuition rates, Montee said.
“If in fact there is justification for that, that’s fine,” she said. “But when there is no policy in place and the cost for those coming in is not covering the full cost of having the students there, it almost seems like the high resident rates are subsidizing nonresidents’ education.”
In 1983, Missouri set a policy of charging nonresident tuition that is twice the cost of in-state rates. But that policy has not been enforced because the education department does not believe it has the authority to do so, according to the audit.
Officials at five of the state’s regional institutions and the University of Missouri all told the auditor’s office that they had no written policy for setting the nonresident tuition rates.
Montee said at a time when there is great concern about tuition rates in Missouri, “We need to have policies in place to protect resident students from having to pay higher tuition to support nonresidents.”
The audit also found a wide disparity in nonresident tuition between the University of Missouri, a doctoral/research institution, and the state’s regional institutions.
A nonresident paid an average of $17,360 at the University of Missouri, 17 percent higher than the $14,871 average for doctoral/research institutions in the other states.
At the same time, the state’s regional institutions charged out-of-state residents an average of $9,198, which was 15 percent lower than the average $10,829 charged by regional institutions in comparison states.
In a written response, the education department said a new policy for setting nonresident tuition rates “could have a positive impact.” But it said monitoring and enforcing such a policy would require a significant amount of staff time. The department was not able to make the recommendation a priority because it has too many other responsibilities.