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Tuition hikes likely at University of Missouri

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 10, 2010 - A song from the Broadway show "Avenue Q" asks, "What do you do with a B.A. in English?"

At some point, the University of Missouri may be asking whether English majors should be paying different tuition from those going for degrees in chemistry or political science.

The change is one of several brought up at the university's St. Louis campus Friday as curators discussed how they should respond to the hard financial realities expected in the wake of the state's budget crunch.

Typically, the curators vote in March on tuition for the following academic year at its campuses in Columbia, St. Louis, Rolla and Kansas City. But this budget year, with Gov. Jay Nixon expected to seek a cut in support by the state to the university as well as other public colleges and universities, the curators plan to move that vote up to their next meeting, in January in Columbia, to give students and their parents more time to figure out how to fund their education.

"Students and families need to plan," said Nikki Krawitz, the system's vice president for finance and administration. "The sooner they know, the better off they are."

Tuition at the university has been flat for the past two years. Krawitz said that with the state expected to cut the system's budget by at least 5 percent, or $18 million, tuition increases seem inevitable.

Legislation requires that if the university raises tuition more than the consumer price index, which seems likely, it needs to seek a waiver from the state's Department of Higher Education. There is some question whether that requirement will stand up, however; because the university is set up separately by the Missouri Constitution, some feel that the Legislature cannot impose such constraints.

In any case, Krawitz said, tuition increases would only make up a part of any budget shortfall. Spending cuts and other factors will also come into play, but until Nixon releases his budget proposal in January, university officials can work only with approximate figures. Even then, the budget will not be final until toward the end of the legislative session in May, but the university cannot wait that long, Krawitz said.

If the shortfall is worse than anticipated, she said, a supplemental tuition increase could be needed, as has been imposed in the past.

"We know that we can't, and we don't want to, increase tuition to fill the whole gap," Krawitz said.

The university has already moved to a tuition plan where graduate and professional degrees cost more than undergraduate degrees. Curators have also approved the concept of tuition varying among the different campuses.

For example, with its wide range of programs and its statewide draw, Columbia may be able to charge more; the scientifically oriented programs at Rolla might also lead to its charging more as well. But the urban campuses in St. Louis and Kansas City, which serve different audiences, may have to hold tuition down to make themselves affordable.

The main factors to be considered, officials say, are access, affordability and the quality of the education.

Addressing his fellow curators after they elected him chairman for the coming year, Warren Erdman of Kansas City brought up another possible variation: charging different tuitions for different degrees.

Though it's just an idea to be studied by the University of Missouri at this point, Krawitz said other schools have already begun the practice, either with actual tuition charges or by imposing fees for different components of various majors, such as lab fees for science or engineering programs.

All of the discussions, said outgoing board chairman Judith Haggard of Kennett, are aimed at one goal: "We would like to keep education affordable, but we also want to make sure the university can survive."

Added Erdman: "This is not the situation we would like to find ourselves in, but we are in it."

He suggested that one way Missouri could raise money to help support a university program to help train health-care providers would be to raise its tobacco tax, which at 17 cents a pack is the lowest in the nation.

In other news:

  • UMSL Chancellor Thomas George said the university plans to break ground early next year on a new building for KWMU in Grand Center, on the north side of Olive Street between Grand and Spring, next to KETC. The $12 million facility is being built under a lease-purchase arrangement.
  • Haggard said there is no further information on when university President Gary Forsee may be resuming his duties full-time. Forsee notified curators last week that he would be taking emergency leave to help care for his wife, Sherry, who was diagnosed with cancer after an emergency appendectomy.

In Forsee's absence, his duties have been assumed by Steve Owens, the university's general counsel, who said he is in daily contact with Forsee about university matters.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.