Nixon asks lawmakers for modest $12 million increase in money for state colleges, universities

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JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — State college and universities say they welcome the $12 million in extra funding Gov. Jay Nixon is seeking in the next budget, but it's not enough to make up for years of underfunding.

Some universities said the proposed basic aid increase — a minimal gain from the current fiscal year's more than $911 million and one of few increases in an otherwise stagnant budget plan — doesn't compensate for rising costs and could lead to a tuition increase in the 2015-2016 academic year if the Legislature does not provide a higher bump.

Nixon's funding boost, proposed this week, averages about 1.3 percent across the board, though it ranges from about 0.82 percent at St. Louis Community College to 1.93 percent at Ozarks Technical Community College. Funding in part depends on how well those institutions retain and graduate students, among other performance factors.

Nixon requested another $13 million for higher education if the Legislature passes proposals including expanding the Medicaid health program, although Republican legislative leaders have said that's a nonstarter.

Efforts to issue bonds to repair aging state buildings or create new university labs appear to have more support from lawmakers, and Nixon proposed $200 million this week in bonds for higher education including more than $161 million for those repairs.

University of Central Missouri Chancellor Chuck Ambrose said state funding for core operations still hasn't surpassed the amount given in 2000, despite rising inflation. That means the burden of other expenses has been shifted to students at Central Missouri and other universities around the state, Ambrose said. Central Missouri's tuition was $99 per credit hour in 2000, and has risen to $242.15 per credit hour (with fees that did not exist in 2000) this school year.

Schools are further financially strapped by a 2007 state law capping tuition hikes to the same rate of increase as inflation without Department of Higher Education permission, although several have said that has helped keep colleges and universities more affordable compared to other states.

But that also means schools have cut budgets, forgone pay increases for staff for years and delayed needed building repairs.

"The funding levels simply haven't kept pace with the costs," St. Louis Community College Interim Chancellor Dennis Michaelis said. "One of the results of that has been a lot of pressure in higher education, whether Mizzou or SLCC, to not raise tuition."

Missouri State University President Clifton Smart said finances at the Springfield school are getting at least slightly better after years of hardship, and employees received a pay raise in the last two years after a three-year span without one.

Still, without additional state money beyond what Nixon proposed, MSU might ask the Department of Higher Education to raise tuition 1 percent to 2 percent for out-of-state and graduate students, Smart said.

Whether lawmakers will increase higher education's piece of the budgetary pie next fiscal year is unclear, said Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican and a leader in shaping the state budget.

"I don't know if that's something we can do for next year or not," Schaefer said, referencing last session's average 5 percent increase in performance-based funding for higher education. "But it's definitely something I want to look at."

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