JEFFERSON CITY — Higher education institutions should be able to change tuition rates based on market activity and the value of certain degrees.

That’s the idea behind a bill sponsored by Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, which would remove state-mandated caps on tuition for five years.

In 2007, the Senate passed SB 389, a bill that enacted the tuition cap at public higher education institutions after lawmakers grew concerned about increasing tuition prices.

In a hearing Monday, the Higher Education Committee met to discuss the specifics of Richey’s newly proposed bill, HB 856, which would temporarily reverse lawmakers’ previous decision. Richey said he had spoken to representatives involved in the 2007 bill, and they agreed that the time has come to set the cap aside.

“It will remove what is currently in place, in terms of a cap for tuition increases within our state universities,” Richey said. “This will effectively remove that and allow market factors to play into that equation more fully, allowing for our universities to set tuition in a way that reflects the value of our degree programs, the cost associated with offering those programs. Some degrees are more expensive than other degrees.”

In the years following the enactment of the cap, universities have increasingly charged course fees to students in addition to basic tuition prices. These fees make the billing process more confusing for students and their parents. For the sake of transparency, Richey said, he is proposing using differential tuition to set prices based on the degree a student is earning.

The concept of differential tuition is simple: Students earning degrees that cost more to teach, such as engineering and nursing, would effectively pay more in tuition than students earning degrees in less expensive subject areas. The fees universities charge students are higher for students earning more expensive degrees because these degrees are, in fact, more expensive for the universities to teach.

Dusty Schnieders, director of government relations for the UM system, testified in support of the bill.

“If this bill went into effect today, we would move our tuition into a differential tuition. So the fees would go away,” Schnieders said. “It would be more transparent for the students and their family members paying for the bill.”

Missouri lawmakers have a recent history of cutting funding to higher education institutions. As a result, these institutions have suffered financially, and since 2007, tuition prices have had to remain within the cap, despite the decrease in financial assistance.

No one spoke against the proposal Monday.

Paul Wagner, executive director of the Council on Public Higher Education, expressed frustration about the lack of funding for higher education institutions.

“My concern is that you all don’t fund us and still get mad at us when we raise tuition,” Wagner said. “We’re here lobbying all the time for increased appropriations with limited success.”

  • State government reporter for the Missourian. Studying investigative journalism. Reach me at judyylucas@gmail.com or in the newsroom at 573-882-5700.

  • Mark Horvit is the state government editor. Call me at 817-726-1621 with story ideas, tips or complaints.

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