MU could raise tuition without state waiver

MU was granted a waiver for this year to raise its tuition 5.5 percent.
Casey Purcella / Graphic Designer

With inflation in the overall economy trending at about 3.5 percent, UM System schools and other public universities in the state might be able to raise tuition for next year without applying for waivers from the state’s higher education department.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature voted to cut higher education funding by about 7 percent, which could force MU and other state universities to raise tuition costs for next school year to cover its operating costs.

In a previous Maneater article, MU Budget Director Tim Rooney said tuition could be increased by 3 percent next year.

Rooney said in an email that the final figure for an increase will depend on whether the governor recommends that universities be given all of what was appropriated to them. Even though the state Legislature has appropriated money for higher education, Gov. Jay Nixon can withhold part of that money if the state's revenues drop.

Rooney said if the state does not decrease the university's appropriation, he anticipates the increase would be about equal to inflation.

"If we increase tuition by a rate equal to inflation, but the state doesn’t increase their support by inflation, we will lose ground," he said. "However, if state funding is flat, we believe we can still balance the budget, but that will be more difficult if the state actually reduces our funding."

But a state law passed in 2007 says public universities cannot raise tuition by more than the rate of inflation without a waiver from the state’s Department of Higher Education.

During last school year, the UM System had to apply for a waiver to increase tuition more than inflation due to state-level cuts for higher education.

In a Nov. 16 news release, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that the consumer price index had risen about 3.5 percent over the previous 12 months. The CPI tracks how fast prices for certain items are rising across the entire country.

That means schools in the UM System could be able to raise tuition by more than the placeholder figure that Rooney gave without getting a waiver from the state, but the final percentage figure will be unknown until next year because it has to account for changes in the economy during December.

Missouri Department of Higher Education spokeswoman Kathy Love said Thursday that the process would likely start with the department’s commissioner, David Russell, sending a letter to MU officials telling them what the change in the rate of inflation is and how much they can increase tuition without being penalized under the law or having to apply for another waiver from the state.

“We probably won’t act until it is official,” she said. “Affordability (of college) for families is, of course, one of our primary concerns.”

If the amounts were to increase by 3.5 percent to the inflation figure from the BLS, students paying in-state tuition would pay about $270.76 per credit hour. That would be an increase of about $9 per credit hour from the current tuition rate.

Out-of-state students would pay about $712.18 per credit hour, an increase of about $24.

But that tuition figure does not take into account course fees or other fees the school charges. The 2007 law does not limit how much MU could raise those fees to close shortfalls.

If a university increases tuition more than the rate of inflation without permission in the form of a waiver, the school would have to give back a portion of its state funding.

Rooney previously called the 3 percent figure a placeholder for inflation.

Love said though getting a waiver allows a school to raise tuition by more than the rate of inflation, it doesn’t skirt the law’s intent of keeping college costs down because the process still forces schools to justify the increased costs.

“It’s not really getting around the law,” she said. “They have to go through a lengthy process to be able to increase tuition more than inflation.”

Although the law was passed in 2007, the UM System schools were among the first institutions to apply for a waiver earlier this year when they sought to increase tuition by 5.5 percent for the 2011-12 school year. Inflation for the previous year had been about 1.5 percent.

The state granted the UM System schools a waiver and allowed it to increase tuition. A statement from Russell’s office said the decision was based on the fact that MU’s tuition increases during the previous three years had together been only slightly higher than the change in inflation.

It praised the UM System for its plan to put 20 percent of the increase in revenue from tuition toward student financial aid.

The statement also noted that the UM System’s funding had been cut by about 12.2 percent, a figure much higher than either the rate of inflation or the university’s tuition increases. It said the relatively low increases in tuition and the high level of state funding cuts represented extraordinary historical circumstances.

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