By Kat Riddler, Editor-In-Chief
It would be too easy to write an editorial complaining about cuts to higher education in Missouri. After all, it bore the lion’s share—almost 60 percent of the total $146 million— of last week’s cuts to the state’s budget.
I understand that the projected shortfall in state revenues was not your fault. It is also duly noted that under the Missouri State Constitution the Governor cannot allow the state budget to fall into a deficit. But this is not just a “lingering slowdown” in revenues as some have reported. Rather, it is the result of cuts to corporate taxes made by the Missouri General Assembly—cuts that the state could not afford, but which played into the “trickle-down” economic narrative.
You know the story: if only you cut corporate taxes, jobs and businesses will then flock to the resulting “economic Eden” and prosperity will trickle down to the working class. But it never quite works out that way, does it? We need only look at the record from our neighbor to the west who went down this path. No one is flocking to Kansas as it sinks further into insolvency and an inability to meet even the most basic functions of a modern state government.
Missouri has been tightening its budget for so long that there is hardly any more waste, fraud, or abuse of tax dollars to cut down on. My school, the University of Missouri – St. Louis, has already been forced to make cuts over the past couple of years and has been under a hiring freeze for just as long. The basic necessities of a university are, in many cases, absent. One glaring example is the dire state of the school’s maintenance staffing. Don’t our taxpayers deserve to have their investments properly maintained?
The hiring freeze has also made it difficult for students to complete their degrees on time. When a shortage of faculty members prevents courses from being offered every semester, students are forced to stay in school longer and spend even more on an already expensive education. Allocations for graduate assistants, who could help take some of that burden off of professors, have been reduced as well.
There was a time when Missouri’s elected leaders took pride in the state’s colleges and universities. Our state’s students are not taking their university educations for granted—of the roughly 17,000 UMSL students, most must work to afford to go to school, many at two jobs. They are going to school to get a degree because that is what it takes to get a stable, well-paying job—and, for many, to break the cycle of poverty.
Missouri’s economy will no doubt suffer if it lacks an educated workforce. St. Louis, for example, is a tech-hub that holds tremendous potential for the state’s economic future. But those industries need people with degrees. UMSL’s business school is also one of the top-rated programs in the nation and our graduates fill all levels of corporate management. Many corporations, recognizing its positive reputation, rely on UMSL for employees seeking advanced or professional degrees.
As a veteran, you may also be interested to know that UMSL’s Veterans program has also been rated one of the best in the nation. Our public universities are gateways for many returning veterans to transition into the private sector. Cuts to higher education directly hurt Missouri’s veterans.
Last year, a special commission empaneled by the leadership of the Missouri General Assembly looked for ways to improve the operations of Missouri’s University System. To our knowledge, none of their recommendations were to gut its funding.
Again, we all understand that you did not cause, but inherited, the budget shortfall. Nonetheless, you can help reverse it. You can resist unrealistic calls for even further cuts to state revenue sources. You can also make higher education a top priority for the restoration of funding should the revenue improve this year. You can also help advocate for the importance of higher education and the role Missouri’s colleges and universities have in driving the economy and making the state an attractive place for high tech businesses and emerging technologies.
In closing, please accept an open invitation to visit UMSL and speak with our students, professors, veterans, administration, and business alumni. As you know from your military career, nothing beats gathering your own intelligence on the ground.