By Kat Riddler, Managing Editor
Budgeting for higher education in Missouri has been shortchanged for years and was starting to list badly even before the election of Missouri Governor Eric Greitens. Missouri already ranked eighth from the bottom in support for higher education per capita.
Earlier this year, Greitens announced major budget cuts to the University of Missouri System. The administration of the UM System and each of its major universities have been working hard to respond to those deep cuts and keep higher education afloat. But just when they thought they were done throwing everything not nailed down overboard to lighten the load, Greitens fires another broadside of budget cuts, blowing an even bigger hole in funding for higher education.
In January, Greitens announced $150 million in budget cuts and $67 million of those cuts came from Missouri’s four year public colleges and universities as well as community colleges. Then just prior to the start of Missouri’s new fiscal year on July 1, the Governor cut another $251 million from the budget, again targeting higher education for another $24 million, as well as cuts to health programs and social services. The Missouri General Assembly had cut funding for higher education by 6.5%, the Governor’s added cuts raise that to 9%. The exact impact of the Governor’s additional cuts is hard to determine as they are what are considered “withholds” that could be restored if and when the states revenue projections improve. But they exacerbate the already tough job facing the UM System and UMSL.
To be fair, the Governor must make adjustments to the State Budget because, unlike the Federal Government, the Missouri Constitution requires Missouri have a balanced budget. But it does NOT require him to continually take the lion’s share from higher education. It may seem an easy target, since higher education also receives endowements and generates funding through tuition and fees as well. But there are two major problems with that line of reasoning.
First, the Missouri General Assembly passed a law in 2008 that the UM System cannot raise tuition by more than the rate of inflation. That was waived once in 2012 after another round of budget cuts by the state. Back in 2008, tuition and fees covered only about a third of the cost of a four-year degree, but last year amounted to more than half the cost according to the Associated Press. So with limits on how much they can raise tuition, universities in Missouri have been forced to raise fees.
Secondly, it is a bad public policy decision to think that universities can just continue to raise fees and tuition without it limiting who can afford an education. Now Governor Greitens was fortunate to have been able to attend a private college, Duke University, on a scholarship and Oxford College in England as a Rhodes Scholar.
As a Rhodes Scholar, Governor Greitens had his tuition and fees paid for, as well as receiving a stipend to live on while in England. That he earned the scholarships he received in life is noteworthy, but it will also have been a colossal waste if he allows the great institutions of learning in his own state to fall by the wayside.
Not every student is so fortunate to have had the advantages in life that Governor Greitens has enjoyed. And dare we say, that there are students right now, working two jobs, trying to meet the costs of earning their degree in Missouri who are perhaps brighter and will contribute more to society over their lifetimes than even a Rhodes Scholar. They are deserving of our collective help. They are deserving of increased public support, not less, from the tax dollars we all pay.
We challenge the governor to take the high road, to remember what education has meant for him and the advantages it has brought to his own life. As John F. Kennedy said on announcing America’s effort to land men on the moon:
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
We challenge the governor to do the hard thing. Provide the money it will take to make Missouri’s higher educational institutions the envy of other states. We already rank 30th in spending on elementary and secondary education per student. We are in the bottom on spending on higher education. These facts are a challenge to Missouri being able to compete for much needed population growth and attracting new business growth.
We want to also remind Governor Greitens that in receiving a Rhodes Scholarship, other criteria was considered besides academic achievement. According to the Oxford web site they also considered, “sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship.”
In announcing these latest budget cuts, the Governor said, “We were sent here to make tough decisions.” With a Rhodes Scholar as our governor, the people should also expect wise decisions.