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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

Colleges Praise Nixon Deal

However, governor doesn't have final say on state appropriations. - January 22, 2009

College students may finally get a break in ever-increasing tuition, and worries about loss in state funding at local public colleges can be put on the back burner -- at least for now.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Nixon announced a deal he had struck with state universities --including Missouri State University -- under which Jefferson City would not cut state funding for higher education in exchange for the schools not increasing tuition.

Community colleges received and accepted the same offer, said Hal Higdon, president of the Ozarks Technical Community College.

Both Higdon and MSU President Michael Nietzel applauded Nixon for his commitment to higher education and expressed their appreciation.

"This is good news for higher education," Nietzel said.

Higdon called the agreement a "major win" when Missouri's public colleges had all expected slashes in state funding.

Nixon's agreement with public colleges, however, doesn't finalize state appropriations for higher education. Missouri General Assembly has the final say on the state budget.

Nietzel said he hopes lawmakers recognize the importance of higher education and that Missouri public colleges have been disproportionately targeted in past.

"It's time we stop cutting higher education," Nietzel said.

This year, MSU's Springfield campus receives $81.5 million in state funding and $76 million in tuition and fees. Between 1999 and 2008, tuition costs at Missouri State went up 84 percent.

State laws cap tuition increase at public universities at the annual cost of living index unless an exemption is granted.

In one of the signs that financial concerns are melting, Nietzel on Wednesday told the university to resume hiring for open positions, including 90 faculty jobs for the next academic year.

But with next year's revenues mainly flat except for likely increases in tuition income from more enrolled students, Nietzel said the university would reallocate its budget dollars to accommodate increases in expenses.

He said it is too early to tell whether money would be available for pay raises.

Still, the morale on campus was boosted Wednesday afternoon not only by a balmy day but also the news.

"That's crazy," said Natosha Jones, a psychology senior. "I think it's great. College has got so unaffordable."

Jones will not benefit from the break in tuition increase, but she said flat tuition may persuade more high school graduates to attend college.

"I think it'll definitely help," Jones said.

Tristan Frizell, Grace Easley and Jordan Thaman are sophomores at Missouri State, and all were pleased with the news.

"Excellent," said Frizell, who majors in chemistry.

"It's nice not to take out more loans," said Thaman, who studies art. "I will get to keep the same budget for next year."

Easley, a music major, said her parents help pay for college and that her family would appreciate the freeze in tuition.

Like Jones, Easley said more students may be encouraged to go to college.

Nietzel, who expects the enrollment to go up, said he could not tell how much the student body would grow in the fall.

Nor could he decide on Wednesday how previous restrictions he has imposed on travel and maintenance work would be lifted.

Anticipating a decline in state funding, Nietzel in November requested contingency plans based on a 5-percent cut. Such plans were shelved when the university was asked by Jefferson City to prepare an impact statement should state appropriation be slashed 15, 20 or 25 percent.

In December, Nietzel eliminated about 10 administrative and staff positions. He also banned international travel, curtailed domestic travel and suspended repair and maintenance jobs unless they were safety-related.

On Wednesday, Nietzel said the university would examine its expenses and allocate dollars accordingly.

The university plans to tighten the budget in non-personnel, Nietzel said.