The UM System Board of Curators reviewed a range of financial measures Thursday, including increased student housing and dining costs, repair and maintenance plans and the future of the university’s state and research funding.

The board also approved the hiring of architects and engineers for MU’s $31.7 million indoor practice facility, designating just over $1.5 million for a design process that will kick off a projected 18-month schedule.

A complete funding plan for the facility will be presented and voted on in May, UM Chief Financial Officer Ryan Rapp told the board.

A $9 million, 4,100-square-foot thermal plant located on MU’s Research Commons area also received approval. The plant will supply steam capacity to current and future buildings on campus, including the NextGen Precision Health building and the new children’s hospital, according to a report delivered to the board.

Construction on the plant is expected to be completed in July 2023.

Housing and dining

Student housing and dining rates will mildly increase for all four UM System campuses starting this summer after the board approved new rates Thursday.

MU’s on-campus living will also see a small shakeup. Responsibility and Discovery halls are scheduled to “go offline” starting in fiscal year 2022 as MU negotiates with MU Health Care to lease the buildings to Women’s and Children’s Hospital, according to a report.

MU will see the largest percent change of the four campuses — a 2.5%, or $243, increase from $9,672 to $9,915 — under the most common room and board plan. The other three campuses’ room and board plans, which average slightly higher than MU’s, will also see 1.1-2% increases.

MU’s housing will be divided into three groups according to demand, according to the report: low-cost, middle-range and premium, with pricing structured accordingly. Off-campus housing will range from $4,895 to $10,605 per academic year.

In addition to Residential Life buildings remaining open during fall, winter and spring breaks, the “365 housing” option will continue for students who need year-round housing.

The Columbia campus will continue to offer three dining plans ranging from $1,700 to $3,502. The plan expected to be most common among students will cost $3,039, according to the report, a 3% increase.

As of Monday, first-year applicants, admits and deposits for 2021 are slightly down from last year on all four campuses, according to University of Missouri President Mun Choi’s report to the board. He cited “pandemic uncertainty,” including the uncertain state of operations on campuses and financial insecurity among families but said the system has “made up a lot of ground” since the fall semester.

Planned repairs and maintenance

The board laid out its plans to spend nearly $37 million in federal funding on infrastructure repairs and maintenance for the UM System’s four campuses.

The funding is part of $68 million announced by Gov. Mike Parson for the state’s public universities and state technical college in January.

In total, the UM System has more than $1.9 billion worth of facility needs, according to a report delivered to the board, including $1 billion of deferred maintenance, $663 million in major repairs and $227 million in repurposing needs. MU detailed its need to demolish buildings and consolidate facilities’ needs to dedicate money toward repairs and maintenance in a 2019 report.

Among the 26 projects listed for MU are:

  • Fire alarm system repairs for several buildings.
  • Roof replacements for several buildings, including Veterinary Medicine West, Middlebush and Strickland halls and Memorial Student Union tower.
  • Extensive exterior repairs at Ellis Library.

MU will see just over $20 million of the allocated total for the system, with the last repairs on the Columbia campus scheduled to be completed by June 2022.

The state will release the funding in six equal installments from January through June, according to the report.

Both Choi and UM spokesperson Christian Basi cited the system’s recently bolstered online and hybrid programming, which they said would enable the campuses to continue functioning efficiently during demolition and maintenance.

State support & research evaluation

In addition to federal funding for repairs and maintenance, the system is requesting $428 million and a $10 million line-item for NextGen Precision Health from the state budget.

Testifying both to legislators in January and at the curators meeting, Choi advocated the role of state funding in success. UM sees the least student education funding out of any higher education institution in the state — $3,925 per student, Choi said.

Choi cited reduced state support as a factor in historical downward trends regarding research success at the system’s campuses, as well as a reduction in tenured and tenure-track faculty.

“This is all due to a variety of factors, but losing state support doesn’t help,” he said Thursday.

Choi, who holds a dual role of leading the system and MU, cited new leadership in the past few years and recent trends indicating research success. He advised UM to “stop investing in programs that don’t achieve excellence” and consolidate when possible to shift resources to successful faculty and research.

“We cannot sustain the breadth of activities we have at the university,” Choi told reporters after the meeting. “We have to consolidate. We won’t use historical precedent to continue just because a program has always existed.”

Choi and the curators also went back and forth discussing faculty research evaluations, acknowledging the system’s areas of weakness and MU’s comparison with others in the Association of American Universities. Curator Greg Hoberock called on faculty leaders to examine their performances and “take action,” though he clarified that did not mean termination.

“I expect every dean and every chair to evaluate every one of their members,” he said.

Future funding for the system, Choi said to reporters, will “depend on the financial state of the state.” But he emphasized the need for increased self-generated revenue through corporate partnerships, licensing and student retention.

New MU public policy degree

MU’s Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs will develop a bachelor’s degree program in public administration and policy following the board’s approval.

The program will educate students and train them to manage public agencies, focus on public policy and solve problems on a variety of community levels, Truman School Director Lael Keiser said. It will be housed in the new Truman School of Government and Public Affairs, recently created by merging the existing public affairs program with the Political Science Department, she said.

The program will require no new faculty and is expected to start generating revenue within its first two years, Keiser said. It can function as a hybrid, in-person or online program.

Adjusted endowment

The board also approved a plan to reallocate the system’s endowment portfolio in response to low Federal Reserve interest rates.

The approved plan invests further in private equity and debt, projecting an average expected return of 7.28%, a 1.13 percentage point increase over the existing plan.

In November, the board reworked the system’s retirement portfolio, bringing it into accordance with the system’s collected rules and regulations and pushing for increased returns.

The system’s endowment plan, because of more conservative spending and higher expected growth, is able to take more investment risk than the retirement plan, UM Chief Investment Officer Thomas Richards told the curators.

  • Galen Bacharier is a former assistant city editor and reporter at the Missourian. He covered higher education, state government and breaking news.

  • Reporter at the Columbia Missourian. (He/Him). Reach me jacobmoscovitch@mail.missouri.edu.

  • Elizabeth Brixey is the Columbia Missourian's education editor and an associate professor in the Missouri School of Journalism. She can be reached at (573) 882-2632 and brixeye@missouri.edu.

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