– Conversations continue in the Missouri Legislature over how to fund higher education in the next year.
PHOTO by Cate Marquis for The Current 2013 ©

 

By Hung Nguyen, Managing Editor for The Current

Conversations continue in the Missouri Legislature over how to fund higher education in the next year. After much excitement from Governor Jay Nixon’s State of the State address, where he pledged to boost funding for higher education, came the harrowing process of getting such a proposal through the rigors of the bicameral legislature.

Nixon had called for state universities to freeze their tuition rates for the 2014-2015 school year in exchange for the increase. The University of Missouri System was the first to answer the governor’s call, with a Board of Curators approval days after Nixon’s speech.

At the 40th Annual Legislative Day on February 18, both Nixon and Wolfe called for increased investment in higher education, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Wolfe cited a backlog of overdue infrastructure development and rehabilitation needs totaling over $1 billion among the four UM system campuses.

But while the Legislature appears to be on-board for increasing higher education funding, there is some disagreement over where the money should go.

Missouri Senate Bill 492, sponsored by Senator David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, is referred to as the college performance funding bill. It calls for universities to meet certain performance criteria in order to receive funding increases from the state when available. The bill would expire in 2016. The criteria would include statistics such as retention rates, job placement, and graduation rates, among other metrics. The importance of the bill is that it would require universities to include such metrics into their goal-setting and would hold them accountable for good and bad performance.

Some concerns were raised as to whether the bill would leave lawmakers powerless for some time by codifying such a strict evaluation process for funding. Opponents of the bill were assuaged, however, by the 2016 expiration, an amendment added to the bill that would enable legislators to give the bill a shot but not renew it if it doesn’t work. The bill will need to be voted on again before passing to the House.

In addition to SB 492, Representative Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, is sponsoring a measure that would allow Bright Flight qualifiers to receive forgivable loans. Missouri House Bill 1308 will expand the Higher Education Academic Scholarship Program, also known as the Bright Flight Program, to include loans that would be incrementally forgiven in exchange for a certain period of employment in Missouri after graduation. Bright Flight recipients are determined based upon performance on ACT or SAT standardized tests. To qualify, students must rank in the top 3 percent or in the top 4th or 5th percentile of all Missouri students taking the test.

Thomson contends that this would help with a phenomenon called “brain drain,” whereby the best and brightest students are leaving the state in search of better scholarships and post-graduation employment. He hopes that by increasing the financial incentive for remaining in Missouri for school and also work the bill would help with this issue. Mike Thomson is chairman of the House Higher Education Committee.

©  The Current 2014