Missouri's college and university presidents have a date with the state Senate's Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.
"We have institutions that get tax dollars, and they all want to argue that they're all the same," state Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer told colleagues last week during floor debate on a performance funding proposal. "They're not - they range in graduation rates from 70.2 percent to 8.5 percent.
"We have to have something that acknowledges that some of these institutions are delivering a high-quality product - some are not."
So, Schaefer, R-Columbia, announced: "What we need to do is have a more comprehensive discussion about what each one of these institutions do - and, really, how they justify their existence."
Missouri owns and operates 10 four-year universities with a total of 13 campuses.
The University of Missouri's Columbia campus is the oldest of all, founded in 1839.
Harris-Stowe State University, St. Louis, is the second-oldest, founded in 1857 (Harris) and 1890 (Stowe) by the St. Louis Public Schools as teacher-training colleges (Harris for whites, Stowe for blacks) which were merged in 1954 - but it didn't become part of the state system until 1979.
Jefferson City's Lincoln University is the third-oldest, founded in February 1866 by soldiers of the Missouri 62nd and 65th Colored Infantry units and their white officers, and teaching its first classes in the fall of 1866.
And the University of Missouri-St. Louis is the "baby" of the 13 campuses, founded in 1963.
During the debate last week, Schaefer noted: "They serve different populations, I understand that - (but) the problem is that the higher education (budget) pie, cut into 13 pieces, is never going to big enough. It's just not.
"(And) at some point, we've got to take a critical look at what we're actually delivering here, with tax dollars."
The campuses have been allowed to choose what kind of school they want to be, admitting students on a highly selective, selective, moderately selective or open enrollment basis.
Lincoln, Harris-Stowe and Missouri Western (St. Joseph) all have chosen to be open enrollment schools - admitting any students who have graduated from high school or have completed a GED degree.
State Rep. Joshua Peters, D-St. Louis, last Thursday received the first-ever LU President's Young Alumni Award.
During the school's Founders' Day Convocation, Peters told faculty, staff, students and supporters: "I came to Lincoln University in 2006 ... not truly knowing what I wanted to do or what my future would be.
"I'm the first one out of five to receive a high school diploma and the first one in my family to go off to college and earn a college degree. It was the faculty and staff here at this institution that encouraged me to go off and do great things."
His accomplishments include being elected LU's student president, graduating with highest honors, working three years as U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay's (D-St. Louis) congressional legislative assistant in Washington, D.C., and winning a presidential appointment as a confidential assistant to the undersecretary of the federal Education department.
But, Schaefer noted during last Monday's debate over performance funding, that the three open admission universities have the worst graduation rates: Harris-Stowe, 8.5 percent; Lincoln, 20.5 percent; and Missouri Western, 27 percent.
The state's best graduation rates, Schaefer said, are 67 percent at Missouri University of Science and Technology (Rolla); 68.9 percent, University of Missouri in Columbia; and 70.2 percent at Truman State University, Kirksville.
"It really begs the question, why do we have any open enrollment four-year institutions?" Schaefer asked. "We have community colleges which, by nature, are open enrollment."
When it comes to funding, he added: "I think you want to take those institutions like the University of Missouri, like Truman and some of the others - they're offering a very, very high quality, nationally competitive education - and you want to incentivize that and give them the resources they need to provide the highest quality education."
Kevin Rome, LU's president since last June 1, said Thursday he wants the senators Tuesday to hear another story.
"I don't want to be in a position to waste the taxpayers' money in the state of Missouri, and I don't think Lincoln does that," Rome told the News Tribune. "When you look at students who come from those districts that are not accredited (and) students who come from more challenging (home) situations - I think we do a grave disservice (to) try to push everyone from certain categories into community college.
"That doesn't mean they'll be any more successful, or less successful" than students who do all their studies at a four-year school.
Rome noted Lincoln and other schools have graduated students into successful careers - in spite of their pre-college education.
"That speaks to their ability to achieve despite their preparation," Rome said. "I just believe that it's the American way to give people opportunity, and to let people believe in the opportunities that this country affords them."
Like Peters, Rome's generation was the first in his mother's and father's families to graduate from college.
"I think we have to recognize that education, for many families, (still) is a luxury," Rome said. "It's not a given."
Open enrollment serves people where "higher education is still foreign to them," Rome added. "What do we do - not allow them to go to a four-year institution if they really want to go to one?
"And nothing against community colleges, but do we force them to go to one?"
Rome and Schaefer both said the questions need to be discussed.