Missouri higher education leaders are asking lawmakers for more funding for operational needs and facility maintenance in the budget cycle that starts July 1.
Several public university and college presidents from around the state appeared at legislative hearings last week in Jefferson City to advocate for more money.
Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis is struggling to pay its faculty a living wage, said interim president Dwayne Smith.
The school has a little more than 30 full-time professors and relies heavily on its 150 part-time instructors. Many are teaching out of a sense of duty to the historically black university, but the school can only rely on the kindness of its staff for so long, Smith said.
“We pay our adjuncts $1,600 a semester, which comes out to about $100 per week. They could make more working at Walmart,” he said in a budget hearing.
Smith also said he found the condition of some of Harris-Stowe’s facilities to be embarrassing. Some of the buildings are approaching 100 years old, and the bathrooms are in poor condition, he said.
Missouri is contributing far less per student to its public colleges and universities than it was 20 years ago, according to a data analysis done by KCUR. State funding for public four-year colleges has fallen by almost 50% since 2000, when inflation is taken into account. Community colleges have seen a 44% decrease, according to KCUR.
In 2000, Missouri spent the equivalent of about $12,500 per student at a four-year institution. This fiscal year, the figure was about $6,727 per student.
Several schools made up that difference in funding by raising tuition and fees. The average cost of in-state tuition and fees at Missouri’s four-year universities has gone up 60% since 1999, according to KCUR.
Smith doesn’t see raising tuition and fees as an option at Harris-Stowe, though. Most of the students can’t afford to pay more, Smith said. More than 80% of students at Harris-Stowe qualify for Pell grants, federal funding to help low-income students go to college, he said.
State Rep. Rusty Black, R-Chillicothe, who heads up the budget writing for public colleges as chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, said getting more funding to Missouri’s higher education institutions is a priority for him.
Black is particularly concerned about the backlog of maintenance projects that need to be addressed on campuses.
But it’s early in the budget process, and higher education has to compete with K-12 schools, health care services and roads for funding. Last year, lawmakers boosted higher education funding by about $1 million. But that’s no guarantee that they'll do the same this year.
“No matter what we do, somebody or everybody gets a little bit of no,” Black said.
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