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Curators: Possible UM System tuition increase a 'Band-Aid'

Mizzou's Columns
File Photo| Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Feb. 11 with correction about how state universities can raise tuition -- The University of Missouri System is strongly considering tuition increases for its four campuses due to declining enrollment and declining state funding.

It’s still early in the budgeting process, but this week’s Board of Curators meeting was the first chance for the governing body to discuss Republican Gov. Eric Greitens’ proposal for another large cut in state funding — 9 percent — in the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

Interim system president Mike Middleton, who was attending his final curators’ meeting before incoming president Mun Choi takes over, said the system will be able to manage without doing layoffs. However, he said, tuition increases could be a necessary “Band-Aid.”

“We can probably survive this upcoming year,” he added. “But it’s going to be very important that we really get down and dirty” to find savings and generate new revenue, which Middleton suggested could include streamlining services across campuses.

University of Missouri system President Mike Middleton prepares to testify Wednesday before the Joint Committee on Education.
Credit File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
University of Missouri system interim President Mike Middleton.

“We’ve been cutting ourselves to the bone for 20 years,” he said.

To raise tuition above the rate of inflation, the system would need either a waiver or have legislators lift the state law that caps tuition increases. When the university system received a waiver six years ago to adjust tuition more than inflation, former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, retaliated by cutting funding.

Students should not expect "draconian" tuition increases, Middleton said.

University of Missouri-St. Louis Chancellor Tom George suggested an increase of about 5 percent at a recent finance committee meeting.

UMSL’s enrollment fell about 6 percent over the past few semesters, down 740 to 10,872. The flagship campus in Columbia also saw a slight drop in enrollment in the fall.

The curators will next have a chance to discuss cuts or tuition increases in April. 

More on report that reviewed the UM System

Curators also heard from the co-chairs of the commission that reviewed the UM System last year at the request of Republican lawmakers.

Jeanne Sinquefield, a businesswoman and wife of wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield, and former UM System President Gary Forsee highlighted the system’s budget problems and recommended legislative changes.

Forsee said the board of curators hands had been tied by an “erosion of responsibilities over the last 20 years.”

The top priorities for Sinquefield from the report’s 33 recommendations were using data to make decisions, redoing the system’s Collected Rules and Regulations and supporting faculty freedom of expression. Forsee said accountability also is important.

Middleton noted that the recommendations will take financial commitments, and also made it clear he believed diversity needed to be a part of the changes.

“Obviously we certainly should be maintaining our focus on diversity and Title IX issues,” Middleton added.

The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators holds the license for St. Louis Public Radio.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney. Follow Camille on Twitter at: @cmpcamille.

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.