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Cuts loom over state's regional colleges

March 1, 2002
By: Matt Williams
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Stacie McLaughlin was drawn to the small campus at Northwest Missouri State University partly for its small class sizes and personal attention.

That small-school appeal is being affected by state budget cuts looming over the Maryville campus. School officials are asking professors to teach more classes and will raise tuition as a last resort.

McLaughlin, president of the student senate, said her classmates know that tuition increases are inevitable if deep cuts are made, but said there is pressure everywhere to raise tuition.

"It's not just Northwest. It's everywhere," McLaughlin said.

Ultimately, she said, higher tuition will mean fewer people getting a college degree.

"I think it's going to put a strain on a lot of students," she said. "It may make the decision of whether or not they can even go to college. I think that's pretty sad."

Some lawmakers and higher education officials are charging that Gov. Bob Holden is boosting funds for public schools on the backs of the state's institutions of higher education.

While Holden proposed a 6.5 percent increase in funding for elementary and secondary education, the University of Missouri System and other state universities and community colleges are facing a 10 percent appropriations cut.

Some legislators, including Rep. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, said one portion of education funding should not be cut to fund the other.

"There has to be a change in priorities," Griesheimer said. "He ran on the platform of education, but at this point, his only priority has been elementary and secondary education."

Leaders of the state's regional state four-year colleges said Holden's budget would force faculty layoffs and tuition increases. The cuts are dramatic, they say, given that Holden proposes giving more money to K-12 education.

"While all of us applaud the emphasis on improving elementary and secondary schools, if we fail to continue to improve our higher education system, then this economy will be hurt," said Northwest president Dean Hubbard.

Cuts in faculty are almost inevitable there given the cut from last year's budget, Hubbard said. The reduction continues a downward trend in the state's share of the university's budget.

In 1985, the state paid 70 percent of the school's costs while tuition made up 28 percent. Today, state money only makes up half of the budget, with increased tuition bridging the difference.

"In this state, an unconscious decision is being made to shift the burden of higher education on to the students," Hubbard said.

Officials at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, said their 10 percent cut from last year's budget hits hard because they are more dependent on the state for revenues than larger schools like MU. Without a large endowment to make up shortfalls, CMSU vice president Judy Vickrey said cuts would mean higher tuition and fewer student services.

Vickrey said she realizes that cuts need to be made throughout the budget, including higher education, but asked that lawmakers spread the cuts evenly.

"If the state is in dire economic straits and cannot meet its budget, then those losses have to be shared by all state services," Vickrey said.

Rep. Ted Farnen, D-Mexico, said he isn't happy that colleges are being cut, but the legislature has few options to cut spending.

"Because of the way our budget is set up, there are only so many areas that you can cut," Farnen said. "Higher education is one of those areas."