Spain-Johanson report targets Missouri tuition

According to the report, MU tuition has nearly doubled since 1994 and loans make up almost 70 percent of all financial aid in Missouri.
Ben Kothe / Graphic Designer

Missouri legislators are making higher education a lower funding priority and causing students to contribute more to increasingly expensive tuition, based on recent research by an MU administrator and a student.

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Jim Spain and MU junior Gunnar Johanson are producing a report on tuition and higher education funding for MU administrators and students to refer to when discussing tuition and funding issues.

Johanson said the overall theme of the report is that higher education is becoming more of a personal benefit for individuals instead of a public good for the state, as tuition increases while state support is on the decline.

According to the report, student tuition at MU has nearly doubled over the past 20 years. In 1994, tuition was $158.76 per credit hour in 2013 dollars, which has risen to $274 per credit hour for fall 2013.

During that time, state funding for higher education fluctuated, according to the report. In the 2013 fiscal year, funding for the Missouri Department of Higher Education made up nearly 5 percent of the overall state budget, the second-smallest portion of the budget since the peak of 6.7 percent in 2001.

Spain and Johanson said they based their research on data from various state budget offices and government archives. They said they hope to complete the report by the end of the 2014-2015 academic year.

The report also highlights a shift in loans provided versus grants and scholarships for higher education. The Missouri Student Loan Program made up 57 percent — about $46.7 million out of $81.5 million — of the overall financial aid appropriations in 1994, and about 68 percent — nearly $220 million out of $321 million — in 2013.

MDHE Director of Communications Liz Coleman said the allocation of funds for higher education depends on a variety of factors.

“For state-level programs operated by the MDHE, the Coordinating Board of Higher Education approves a budget request each year, which is submitted to the state budget office for approval through the state appropriations process,” Coleman said in an email.

Coleman said the General Assembly ultimately determines the state budget for higher education.

“The MDHE coordinates the budget requests from the state’s public colleges and universities and provides those requests to the state budget office,” Coleman said. “The department also provides information about the need for funding to support higher education in Missouri and provide higher education opportunities to as many Missourians as possible.”

Johanson said there could be a number of causes for a decreased focus on higher education, such as the Hancock Amendment, which requires new taxes to be approved by the general population, and the 1992 introduction of term limits for state representatives, which he said could affect legislators’ priorities while in office for a shorter period of time.

Johanson said student apathy on tuition and funding issues could be another major cause.

“There are more and more students that come to the university and don’t really care about state support, or out-of-state students that don’t care what happens in the state legislature if they’re only here for four years,” he said.

Johanson became interested in state funding of higher education as a cabinet member of the Missouri Students Association his sophomore year. He continues this work as an intern for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, where he prepares briefs on a number of issues, including higher education.

When he started his research, Johanson said he wanted to discover what MU students could do to help their peers who struggled to afford higher education through his research of public education funding in Missouri.

Johanson said he hopes the report will elevate conversation about higher education funding.

“The state of higher education in Missouri is overshadowed by a lot of other issues, especially on campus,” Johanson said. “For a long time, Missouri was a beacon of higher education, and the state supported it and many students were able to go to many different campuses. That’s just not the case anymore. The state support is starting to dwindle, and a lot more is coming from student tuition and student money, putting a higher burden on the students.”

Spain said he believes student leaders have an important role in understanding the issue and educating other students.

“This is an issue that is affecting higher education across the country,” Spain said in an email. “Our campus leaders have been working with leaders across higher education and with elected officials to address this trend. The concern is how it will impact financial accessibility to higher education.”

Johanson also said he wants more students to be involved in the conversation.

“I don’t think we’re going to see state support for public higher education grow until the students demand it,” he said. “My main goal is to get students educated about who they’re voting for, what their representatives are voting on and if there is a role we can play in the conversation.”

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