By Mawa Iqbal, 23News reporter

Leaders of MU students groups fear that the quality of Missouri higher education and, ultimately, Missouri’s economic health will be jeopardized by Gov. Greitens’ 2019 budget plan.

During a news conference in the Governor’s Office on Jan 22, Greitens outlined his $28.7 billion budget blueprint. The plan includes a $68.1 million, or 10 percent, reduction to University of Missouri System funding.

Yet this isn’t the first time the UM system has beared the brunt of Greitens’ state budget cuts.  Greitens’ proposal comes just one year after an approximately $159 million, or about 12 percent, cut to higher education spending for fiscal year 2018.

When comparing the budget books of fiscal years 2016 and 2017, The UM System had more than $53 million restricted from its core funding for fiscal year 2017. MU specifically had $20 million slashed from its budget, according to a Jan.18 memo written by then MU Chancellor Hank Foley. Greitens, who was a newly elected governor at the time, defended his withholdings by calling Missourians to action.

“You elected me because I’ll always tell it like it is,” Greitens said in a January 2017 Twitter video. “As Missourians, I believe we must come together, tighten our belts and be smart and wise with our tax dollars.”

 

Nearly one year later, Greitens is echoing the same metaphor.

“We are not raising taxes on the people of Missouri,” Greitens said in a press conference on Jan 22. “We told departments to tighten their belts.”

However, student leaders from universities across Missouri feel their figurative belts have been tightened enough.

“It would place public universities in a position where they must continue cutting essential faculty, staff and crucial programs that benefit [the] state,” student body representatives from six Missouri public universities said in a joint statement.

 

A January 2018 report published by The Task Force on Academic Program Analysis, Enhancement, and Opportunities may indicate that MU is already headed in that direction. The report is recommending the elimination of specific doctoral, masters and graduate certificate programs and cites low enrollment as one of the reasons.

“If we have less programs to offer, then there’d be less students coming here and that could…lead to MSA and many other organizations losing funding,” Jake Eovaldi, Missouri Students Association budget committee chair said in a live interview with MUTV.

 

Eovaldi fears that low enrollment will only worsen if Greitens’ cuts are implemented.

According to the joint statement from Missouri student representatives, budget cuts of this magnitude would not only lead to program cuts and low enrollment, but also increase tuition.

“Budget reductions of this magnitude would undoubtedly cause the rising cost of college to be placed squarely on the backs of students in the form of increased tuition and fees,” the joint statement reads.

Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia shared a similar sentiment in a Twitter post after Greitens’ budget proposal was officially released.

 

“We cannot continue to balance the budget on the backs of students; they are the future workers and job creators Missouri desperately needs to cultivate,” Rowden tweeted.

In an effort to provide some relief from the state cuts that higher education has faced over the past two years, Rowden introduced Senate Bill 912. The bill would allow universities to increase student fees by up to 10 percent of the previous year’s fees.

This bill would repeal Senate Bill 389, which caps tuition increases in relation to the consumer price index and requires waivers from universities if these institutions wish to increase tuition above the limit.

With Sen. Rowden’s proposal, universities would be allowed more flexibility in pricing tuition

On Feb. 7, SB 912 was passed in the Appropriations Committee.

Thank you @Drdanwbrown for your leadership over this committee and @calebrowden for your sponsorship and constant support of Missouri #highered! #moleg,” the UM System tweeted on Feb. 7.

 

Missouri higher education leaders and student representatives had the opportunity to attend a hearing on the bill on Jan 31. Among those who testified for the bill was Chris Dade, the  Associated Students of the University of Missouri president. He recognized that this bill comes at a time when higher education is at a “critical point.”

“It might not seem intuitive that students are saying we need to increase tuition caps,” Dade said in an interview with MUTV. “But when you continually cut state appropriation and also limit tuition increases to less than two percent per year, universities get squeezed from both sides.”

Dade considers this bill to be a short-term solution to the current trend of reduced state appropriations to universities. Through the implementation of this bill, the state of Missouri has more time to contemplate the bigger question of whether or not Missouri values higher education enough to invest in it, Dade said.

Data from a 2016 report conducted by the Missouri 100, a UM System advocacy group, indicated that the answer is yes to that question.

Black and yellow infographic that explains some data found from a Missouri 100 Report

This infographic illustrates the economic impact the UM System has on the state of Missouri.

“If we value the economy, we have to value higher education,” Dade said. “When the state makes that commitment to a well-educated workforce and doesn’t try to cut ten percent from the higher education budget, businesses come back to the state which allows our grads to stay in state and that investment to remain in the state.”

The joint statement concludes with a call to action similar to the one Dade and other student representatives are urging the state of Missouri to act upon.

“Each year, public universities train and shape the leaders and the workforce of our state’s future,” the statement said. “It’s time to invest in them.”

Edited by Isabel Lohman | iplp54@mail.missouri.edu

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