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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

Campuses Predict Dire Impact from Budget Cuts

Friday, Dec. 19 2008

By Kavita Kumar - St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Here are some worst-case scenarios of what would happen if Missouri were to cut state appropriations to higher education by 25 percent:

Truman State University would eliminate 208 jobs — or 23 percent of its faculty and staff — which would lead to larger class sizes and fewer student support services.

Tuition at St. Charles Community College could go up as much as 12.5 percent.

And Southeast Missouri State University might cap enrollment, increase student fees and reduce scholarships.

This is not just an idle exercise in budget planning. State legislative budget leaders who have been monitoring gloomy state revenues and a similarly bleak outlook for the future have asked every state department and agency to provide them with statements of how 15 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent cuts the next fiscal year would affect them.

Thursday was the deadline to turn in their responses to the state Department of Higher Education.

No one knows for sure if cuts of that magnitude will become a reality — and which sectors will face the greatest burden if they do. But higher education leaders are taking the issue seriously because they have been picked on in the past.

"Historically, higher education has received a disproportionate hit compared to other departments," said Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, who along with Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, chairman of the House budget committee, asked for the budget scenarios. "That's what happened in 2001."

Nodler said he would prefer the cuts not come from higher education at all. In fact, he had hoped to increase higher education funding by 4.4 percent — the amount that would finally get institutions back up to 2001 and 2002 funding levels.

"But at this point, I will be happy if we can avoid major cuts," Nodler said.

Many university presidents are anxiously awaiting Gov.-elect Jay Nixon's plan for how to fill the projected $342 million shortfall for this fiscal year. The state revenue forecast for the next fiscal year does not look much rosier.

Many campuses in Missouri have already taken steps to brace for future cuts. The University of Missouri system has instituted a hiring freeze, but the four campuses still have leeway to make some exceptions.

The University of Missouri-Columbia, like some other college campuses, has turned down the temperature in buildings to save energy costs. The thermostats are now set at 70 degrees — down from 72 degrees — and will turn them up to 76 degrees from 74 degrees in the summer to save a total of $120,000 a year.

The University of Missouri-St. Louis is delaying some maintenance projects, such as repairing the leaky roof on one of its main administrative buildings, spokesman Bob Samples said. School officials are also cancelling some previously-approved trips to attend professional training and seminars.

The budget scenarios that campuses turned in on Thursday have some common themes. Paul Wagner, deputy commissioner of higher education, said that many of them deal with layoffs of some degree, which is not surprising since a large percentage of university budgets go toward salaries and benefits.

Wagner also pointed out that few of the scenarios call for large tuition increases. Schools are reluctant to raise tuition further because students and families are already paying so much, he said. Universities would also have to get a special waiver from the higher education commissioner to raise tuition above the level of inflation because of a new state law.

"Assuming that tuition is capped at a 3 percent increase, a 25 percent cut would create a catastrophic financial situation which would require both layoffs and significant cuts to academic programs and would make it impossible to fulfill our mission," Truman State said in its report.

Michael Nietzel, president of Missouri State University in Springfield, is the leader of a group that represents the presidents of public colleges and universities in Missouri. He had a meeting recently with Nixon along with University of Missouri system President Gary Forsee and Lincoln University President Carolyn Mahoney. Nietzel said they discussed the dismal history of higher education funding in the state and impressed upon Nixon that higher education could be a solution — a stimulus — to the current economic problems.

Nietzel also said that his university educates 1,500 more full-time students today than it did in 2002, but receives less state funding than it did then.

"And that's not adjusted for seven years of inflation," he said. "That's just not sustainable."

kkumar@post-dispatch.com | 314-340-8017