Missouri curators approve more modest tuition hike

By ALAN SCHER ZAGIER

Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — University of Missouri students can expect a more modest tuition increase than anticipated in the next academic year, but the savings will likely put an undetermined number of campus employees out of work.

University curators agreed Monday to raise undergraduate tuition at the system’s four campuses this fall by an average of 3 percent for state residents. Including student fees, that works out to annual increases of $259 to $268 in Columbia, Kansas City, St. Louis and Rolla for those attending full-time.

The increase is less than half the hike university system leaders proposed in late January. It also means the university can avoid seeking a waiver from the state Department of Higher Education — as well as angering Gov. Jay Nixon, who has warned the university to keep college costs down. The governor’s office issued a statement soon after the curators’ vote “commending” the decision.

State law limits annual tuition increases to the federal rate of inflation, which is currently at 3 percent. Higher increases require approval by Missouri’s higher education department. The Missouri system received such approval last year — then watched Nixon impose spending restrictions on higher education, beyond those approved by legislators, once he signed his budget into law.

The reduced revenue will likely result in elimination of 200 to 245 full-time jobs that are either vacant or currently filled. Nikki Krawitz, the system’s vice president for finance and administration, estimated one-third of those cuts could involve layoffs of existing campus workers.

New university president Tim Wolfe, who took office last week, declined to discuss specifics, in part out of privacy concerns for employees who could be affected. He expects the university to offer more details when curators receive a preliminary budget at their next meeting in April, with a final budget prepared by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

“We are trying to do our best to save every single role that we’ve got,” Wolfe said. “But unfortunately, the budget challenge that’s presented to us won’t allow that to happen.”

University officials are using $18.2 million from the Missouri system’s share of a nationwide settlement with mortgage lenders over foreclosure fraud to avoid a bigger tuition increase. But that still leaves the system with a $47.1 million budget gap to plug over the next four months.

Along with job cuts, that will likely mean reducing spending on once-lauded strategic initiatives such as Mizzou Advantage, a program begun in 2010 to increase the school’s national reputation by building on its strengths in such areas food-related research, new media and sustainable energy. Some academic programs and departments could face consolidation or elimination.

One cut university administrators hope to spare is a long-delayed plan to award 3 percent merit pay raises, though fewer employees are likely to get them.

“It’s important that we continue to address this challenge we’ve got of paying our people at market rates,” said Wolfe, who joined the university after a 30-year career in private industry. “We have to do that.”

The initial tuition proposal released in late January called for increases ranging from 3 percent at the University of Missouri-Kansas City to 9 percent at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. Curators responded coolly to that proposal and asked administrators to find more spending cuts.

Out-of-state tuition will increase more, with hikes next year of 7.5 percent at the Columbia campus, 8.5 percent in Rolla, 8.2 percent at UMSL and 3 percent at UMKC.

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