Is the University of Missouri's burgeoning enrollment too much of a good thing?
Coupled with declining state aid, the school finds itself in the unenviable position of trying to educate more students with fewer resources.
As a consequence, university officials now are contemplating a previously taboo topic - an enrollment cap.
Enrollment at the university's main campus in Columbia has been increasing steadily during the past decade. Enrollment topped 32,000 students at the beginning of the fall 2010 semester, and an increase of 1,000 students is anticipated when classes resume in August.
Revenues largely are derived from tuition and fees, which account for nearly 50 percent, and state aid, about 36 percent of the school's total income.
In response to the university's 5.5 percent tuition hike that exceeded the state's recommendation, Gov. Jay Nixon cut the school's budget by an extra $4.4 million, or 8.1 percent for fiscal year 2012.
"We cannot continue to take more and more students while state support declines and there are legal and practical restrictions on our ability to increase tuition," said Steve Owens, the university system's acting president. "Without adequate resources, the quality of our academic and research programs is at risk."
His sentiments are shared by Columbia's state lawmakers representing both political parties.
"Something has to give," lamented Republican Sen. Kurt Schaefer. And Democratic Rep. Chris Kelly said: "The university cannot continue to deliver a quality education to more people with ever-shrinking resources. That's the reality."
An enrollment cap would mark a reversal of the philosophy guiding the land grant school founded in 1839 to broaden access to higher education in Missouri.
The value of a college education has become increasingly more vital and valuable in the 172 years since the school was founded.
The university system must make every conceivable effort to maximize resources, eliminate waste and prioritize instruction.
If an enrollment cap becomes a financial necessity, it will serve as a sad commentary on our commitment to higher education in Missouri.