Nixon against tuition hikes at Missouri colleges

Governor vows pressure to keep tuition down

Gov. Jay Nixon provides an outline as he and Missouri higher education officials meet with reporters in his Capitol office Wednesday in Jefferson City.

Gov. Jay Nixon provides an outline as he and Missouri higher education officials meet with reporters in his Capitol office Wednesday in Jefferson City. Julie Smith/AP photo

Gov. Jay Nixon pledged Wednesday to pressure Missouri’s colleges and universities to hold down tuition increases even while warning that they likely will take “substantial cuts” in the next state budget.

Nixon also encouraged Missouri’s higher education institutions to eliminate lightly used degree programs, collaborate on redesigning common courses and try to boost the number of people obtaining college degrees.

“We want excellence,” Nixon said. “We’re taking a much more comprehensive and — in my view — thoughtful view of what we can do to position our institutions to competitively educate more students for years to come.”

Nixon outlined his education goals Wednesday to The Associated Press and several education reporters for other media outlets invited to his Capitol office.

Missouri colleges and universities are in the second year of a tuition freeze they voluntarily implemented as part of a deal brokered by Nixon to avert deep state funding cuts. But the deal expires before the 2011-12 academic year.

Nixon said he expects “substantial cuts” next year for higher education institutions — in excess of the roughly $50 million cut this year — because of the expiration of federal stimulus money for states. But he said it’s too early to say exactly how large of a cut he will recommend when he proposes a budget in January.

Regardless, Nixon said he is not expecting colleges and universities to respond with substantial tuition increases.

“I’ll use the resources at hand of the chief executive of the state to keep downward pressure as best I can” on tuition, Nixon said. He declined to specify what percentage of a tuition increase he would consider to be reasonable.

While state funding has fallen and tuition remained flat, Missouri’s colleges and universities have experienced significant enrollment increases. Nixon wants to eliminate courses producing only a few graduates.

At the urging of Nixon’s administration, Missouri’s public colleges and universities have undertaken a course review to identify programs graduating fewer than 10 bachelor’s degree students annually, five master’s degree students or three doctoral students.

It’s up to the governing board of each institution to decide whether to phase out those programs. The state’s colleges and universities already have identified 61 degree programs to eliminate with the possibility of more, said interim state higher education commissioner David Russell.

Academic officers from 13 institutions also agreed in October to work together to redesign the curriculum for 13 of the largest undergraduate courses, Nixon said. The state is providing $100,000 for the effort, the institutions $190,000, and they plan to apply Friday for an additional $250,000 private grant, Nixon said.

The goal is not to make basic algebra or economics the exact same at every campus but rather to develop a model, Nixon said. One potential application could allow students to do math homework online and have it automatically graded when they arrive for class the next time.

“Missouri’s going to be the first state with this level of multi-institutional collaboration on course redesign,” Nixon said.

About 37 percent of Missouri residents have college degrees. Nixon wants that to rise to 60 percent by 2020, an increase that cannot be accomplished solely by getting more high school graduates to attend college. To attain that mark, Nixon said some of the roughly 746,000 Missourians who already have college credits but not degrees would need to return to school to complete their coursework.

Nixon said he also wants to eventually move Missouri toward a higher education funding model based on the school’s missions and performance, instead of enrollment.

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