Presidents from multiple universities testified Wednesday morning on behalf of a bill that would change how universities could charge tuition. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, allows universities with an above average tuition rate in the state of Missouri, to raise tuition up to ten percent past the rate of inflation
It modifies the current law which currently caps the tuition rate, in most cases, at the rate of inflation. The bill also removes the appeal process universities must follow if they want to raise tuition past the cap. Now, with a cap of 10 percent past the inflation rate, universities no longer have to appeal to the state board of higher education, but cannot go past the cap. According to Rowden, the intended purpose of this bill is to provide an option for universities when they are facing budget cuts.
“It is my hope, that this bill is never used, because the idea that, this would only happen in a world where we are cutting core appropriations,” Rowden said.
Nine people spoke to condone the bill, including UM System President Mun Choi. Choi linked the support of this bill to last year’s budget cuts and the proposed budget cuts Gov. Eric Greitens is recommending for higher education this year.
“This tuition increase relief that we are seeking, is really tied in to how much support we are getting from the state. During the past two years we’ve seen an 80 million dollar cut to our appropriations and that’s putting us into a precarious situation,” Choi said.
Another supporter was Natalie Butler, who represented the Associated Students of the University of Missouri.
“With the series of cuts in fiscal year 2018 and those proposed in fiscal year 2019, combined with the tuition caps, we’ve really put universities in an unworkable position,” Butler said.
Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, expressed his support of the bill, questioning the amount of involvement the government has with tuition rates.
“I think colleges and universities are smart enough to price their services, and if they overprice it, they’ll pay the price,” Brown said.
The bill did receive scrutiny. Senator Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said he’s hesitant to support the bill without some way to provide tuition predictability for students. Holsman also noted that the governor’s recommendations are subject to the Senate’s decision.
“Until we get our arms around what our Senate position is going to be, I think it’s too early to determine whether the universities need a ten percent increase above the cost of inflation,” Holsman said.
Universities were again the topic of discussion during the House Education Appropriation subcommittee. Representatives from six universities spoke to the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee. Members of the education appropriations subcommittee heard testimony from the heads of multiple universities Wednesday afternoon.
Choi was one of six representatives who spoke on behalf of their respective universities.
“We believe very strongly that further cuts will lead to larger class sizes, higher student to faculty ratios and ultimately, lower graduation rates, which essentially increases the cost of attendance for our students,” Choi said.
Choi requested the restoration of the UM System core budget, the restoration of line item projects and the committees help in passing a senate bill that would allow universities to change the tuition cap to ten percent beyond the inflation rate.
Mike Middleton, the Interim President of Lincoln University, stated that Lincoln university could not sustain more significant cuts.
“A decline in the number available high school students was already forecast, but with this additional wave of cuts, we are in a perfect storm, with no clear break in the clouds.” Middleton said.
Two common themes among some of the universities’ statements were the support of raising the tuition cap, and a request to delay performance based funding.