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Performance-based funding proposed for Missouri colleges

The quad at UM-Columbia
The quad at UM-Columbia


Jefferson City, MO – Colleges and universities in Missouri soon could be judged on performance before they get state funding. Gov. Matt Blunt has proposed linking funding to meeting certain criteria.

Colleges and universities who meet the standards could fare better in future state budgets.

Legislation to be introduced Monday in the Missouri Senate would require the creation of five performance standards for higher education institutions that could serve as a basis for funding decisions. A second prong would limit tuition increases to the rate of inflation.

Gov. Matt Blunt called for both measures in his State of the State speech Wednesday, declaring to Republican applause that "college costs must be controlled, and tuition must be more predictable."

On Thursday, college and university presidents met with Blunt's budget officials at the Capitol, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Gary Nodler described in more detail what the plan will entail.

The bottom line: "Institutions are going to have to justify their levels of funding moving forward," said Nodler (R-Joplin) who also is vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

University leaders are open to performance standards and some type of tuition restraints, as long as they are not too rigid or punitive.

"What we hope we'll come up with is something that doesn't tie our hands so much that we end up cutting quality," said Barbara Dixon, president of Truman State University in Kirksville and head of the state Council on Public Higher Education, which represents the state's four-year institutions.

The legislation would not mandate specific performance criteria, however. Those would be developed by the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education, which oversees the state's nearly three dozen public college and university campuses.

Three of those performance standards would apply to all campuses perhaps including things such as student retention and graduation rates or enrollment rates of minorities and lower-income students, Dixon said.

The two other criteria would vary by campus. At Truman, for example, the criteria could include the number of students who go on to graduate school or the performance of students on national standardized tests, Dixon said.

University of Missouri President Elson Floyd said such quantifiable measures are part of a broader national trend. "All of us believe we should be accountable to the various publics we serve," Floyd said Thursday before a University of Missouri curators' meeting in St. Louis. Floyd is leaving in May to become president of Washington State University.

The House passed legislation last year that would have imposed a backdoor incentive to cap university tuition increases. But that bill died in the Senate.

Nodler said his bill would require special approval by the state Coordinating Board for Higher Education for a college or university to raise tuition by more than the Midwest's annual rate of inflation.

In 2006, the Midwest's consumer price index rose by 2.4%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. By comparison, the University of Missouri curators on Thursday were considering a 3.8% tuition increase for next school year.

Floyd said he supports a tuition cap tied to cost-of-living increases a concept he has been building support for over the past several years. But university officials want to make sure there is flexibility in the cap.

For example, tuition at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph rose 6% this school year easily above inflation. But that came after three years in which tuition remained flat, said university President Jim Scanlon, who also is chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council to the state's higher education board.

University officials also want the tuition cap to account for years in which state higher education funding rises by less than inflation or declines, as was the case several years ago.

"I think there's a real strong desire to have restraint on large increases in tuition," Dixon said. But "what we have been reluctant to embrace is a restraint to CPI on our part with no commitment on the Legislature's part" to keep funding on pace with inflation.

The tuition cap enjoys strong support among Republican House leaders. "We have a right to say why is it going up so fast, what are you doing to control these costs, why can't you live like these other folks have to live?" said House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill.

Nodler's legislation also will include other higher education initiatives, including the approval of Gov. Matt Blunt's plan to take $350 million from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority for campus construction and biotechnology projects.

Nodler said the legislation also would combine Missouri's two financial needs scholarships into one revamped program and would require college course materials to state whether the professor overseeing a course will actually be teaching it.