By Kat Riddler, Managing Editor
The Student Government Association’s Open Forum on Fees and Tuition was at 1 p.m. in the SGA Chambers on November 17. Rick Baniak, vice chancellor for finance and administration and chief financial officer, answered questions for students about the possibility of a tuition and fee increase for next year.
Baniak explained that the University of Missouri-St. Louis did not have a balanced budget since Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. Currently, the university is in FY18 that started on July 1.
Baniak explained that because of Senate Bill (SB) 389, UMSL is at a competitive disadvantage. The bill caps the university from raising its fees and tuition more than the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to accommodate for inflation over the year. This also means that the university is able to raise its fees and tuition up to the CPI without the Board of Curators’ approval. Currently, the estimated CPI increase will be about 2 percent.
But with the state funding declining and the cap of how much they can charge, the university’s only way to make up that deficit is through cuts or generating more student numbers.
With only those two options, Baniak explained it was difficult for UMSL to compete with other universities in the area as well as other states. Cuts can cause less services available to students so they are trying to avoid that.
Last year, UMSL prepared cuts for a decrease in student population of 5 percent. They over budgeted and saw an actual decrease of only 2.5 percent. This year, they hope to see an increase of 4 percent in enrollment because of some investments they are making.
UMSL has been spending more this year on marketing and recruiters. They just started the marketing campaign called UMSL NOW (nights, online, and weekends). This program will have more classes available for students to come back and finish their degree or for working adults who need the flexibility to get their degree. They have also invested in some campus improvements like in the quadrangle and some roads on campus.
UMSL has seen some returns on their investments in their marketing. Last summer, Baniak explained they did a marketing push for more summer enrollment. They saw a 7 percent increase in enrollment for their efforts. They hope to do the same in the future.
A student in the forum was concerned with this effort as his classes were full very fast in the summer and he was concerned with more students displacing his opportunity to take classes. Baniak was not aware of that problem and hoped to fix those issues for the student.
Another student asked if the university could save money to not fill positions. Baniak explained that this is already happening and has saved the university money to not fill vacated positions or even have a hiring freeze. The administration is working on redesigning units and departments so they can function with those cuts and vacated positions to not cut down services to students.
A student was concerned that some of the smaller programs or graduate programs might be first on the chopping block and wondered how he decides what to cut if cuts are made. Baniak explained he does not make academic cuts. He will set a financial figure and the department or college has to make any cuts to meet that number. Baniak also acknowledged that not every program is making money, nor does every program have to make money. He explained that the rule of thumb is “if you lose money, lose less. If you make money, make more.”
UMSL’s SGA has the full forum available on their facebook page for viewing.