Guest Op-Ed by: Professors  Jill B. Delston, Philosophy and Carol Jenkins, Languages

It couldn’t have been easy for Danielle even to show up to Social and Political Philosophy, let alone to bring her daughter to class and hold her own with the graduate students taking the course. Now, Danielle is a graduate student, getting her Master’s degree in Philosophy and on her way to a successful career. Her story is the UMSL way. But it’s only possible in an environment that makes education accessible to all.

So we ask you: How much would you like your tuition to rise next year? How about 10 percent? How about more? What would you like to get in return for all those extra tuition payments? How about fewer scholarships; fewer programs, majors, degrees and classes; fewer faculty members in each department and less advising for each student? While the Missouri House debates Governor Greitens’ felony indictment, UMSL is dealing with the fallout of Greitens’ budget proposal to cut another $68 million from the already impoverished budget of the UM system while offering millions in tax cuts benefiting corporations. In response, a bill under discussion now in Jefferson City would allow for tuition hikes at 10% above the rate of inflation. Increasing tuition would discourage many people from pursuing an education at all and make it harder for those who did to complete it. We already rank 44th out of 50 for spending on higher education in the nation. How much lower should we go?

Missouri requires educated citizens to thrive in a high-tech and globalized world. In fact, the stated preference of major corporations looking to relocate or maintain a presence in a city here is for a highly trained and motivated workforce. The UM system exists to produce this educated labor force. Historically, it has served the state and students well in this capacity, providing high-quality education at a reasonable cost to students who largely remain in state. UMSL itself offers a number of programs ranked nationally in the top ten, and 85% of its graduates remain in the region. Thus the system exemplifies productive infrastructure, in that the money invested in it pays high returns in the form of higher wages and state income. Despite the resounding evidence testifying to the strength of the University of Missouri, state spending per student has decreased 22 percent since 2008 in Missouri, with cuts in state support of $40 million in the last two years alone, leading to the loss of more than 500 jobs in the system just in 2017.  If the system were a private employer, politicians would be up in arms about these job losses. So let’s be clear: Missouri’s old budget was a job killer and the one proposed by Greitens would only be worse.

For UMSL, a campus serving many lower–income and first generation students from underserved communities, lowering investment in the future and raising the costs of education would be disastrous. Our students already work long hours to finance their educations, often to the detriment of their studies and progress towards their degrees. In a knowledge-based economy where most well-paying jobs require a degree, denying our citizenry the ability to pursue an education is wrong and we cannot allow it to happen. The world is a better place when our graduates go on to contribute to economic prosperity and to lend their voices to academic research and the advancement of knowledge. Greitens’ plan to defund higher education is, in short, an attack on equal opportunity and the democratization of information. Everyone loses.

There are things to like about Greitens’ budget. For example, he wants to put millions in K-12 education, demonstrating that he does understand the efficacy of such investments in the future. But we also know that an education that ends with high school is not enough for a state that wants to attract entrepreneurs, tech industries, and research dollars from across the country and the world. As President Choi has already noted, “… many Missouri students are leaving the state to go to other universities in border states because they made the investment in higher education. That net outflow creates a brain drain that takes away from economic development.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. While the deck at the moment seems stacked against Missouri students and their families, politicians in Jefferson City will listen to their constituents — if they make their voices heard. Don’t let your silence support policies harmful to your future and the future of Missouri. Join with us, UMSL United, to send a powerful message to Governor Greitens and the Missouri legislature: The University of Missouri system is infrastructure vital to our individual and shared success and to the prosperity of our state. Don’t destroy what makes Missouri great. Don’t eliminate this valuable resource by draining its budget to balance the state’s. Invest in us, reverse the harmful trend of underfunding, and reap the benefits of an ambitious, successful, educated citizenry. We can still save our school. Speak out, sign our petition, write a letter. Let them hear from you today.