College, University Presidents Say Budget Cuts Will Hurt, Not Help, Economy

Kansas City, Mo. — Glum administrators from colleges and universities around the state met yesterday to discuss the impact of potential budget cuts to their institutions. State agencies and publicly funded colleges and universities have been asked to determine the impact of 15, 20 and 25 percent reductions to their operating appropriations to address an estimated shortfall in Missouri revenue heading into the next fiscal year.

Michael Nietzel, president of Missouri State University in Springfield and leader of the Council on Public Higher Education, told the Coordinating Board for Higher Education that the state's colleges and universities have never had to manage a cut that severe. Institutions are still reeling from cuts made after 2002 that have led to Missouri's rank as 47th in the nation in per capita funding for higher education.

"The demand for a college education is greater than ever," Nietzel said. "Citizens recognize the need for higher learning, particularly in a knowledge-based, global economy. A cut in state support for higher education, on top of the cuts we've already sustained, could trigger draconian cutbacks at the universities or staggering tuition increases. We do not want to put that cost on the backs of families, who are already hurting."

Public colleges and universities received funding increases in the last two years, but have not reached the levels of state support available in 2001 and 2002, when adjusted for inflation. Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education Paul Wagner said he expected a memo requesting scenarios for 5, 10 and 15 percent reductions, given the decline in state revenues, but that the higher amounts came as a shock.

Neil Nuttall, president of North Central Missouri College in Trenton and leader of the Missouri Community College Association, said, "A community college education is a workplace investment. Community colleges are called on to train workers for productive jobs. If we have to eliminate programs, we're going to have to limit enrollment and that is counterproductive when you need to stimulate the economy."

Potential reductions in state funding for colleges and universities dominated discussion at the regular meeting of the Coordinating Board for Higher Education and led to unanimity among the board and institution presidents.

"It is essential to protect those programs that make the economy grow," said board member Jeanne Patterson of Belton. Her comments were echoed by Henry Givens, president of Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis.

"Ninety percent of our student body are first generation college students, and 90 percent are low income. We are saving lives and turning around cycles of poverty," Givens said. "For Harris Stowe, raising tuition is not an option, because our students cannot afford it. Cuts of this magnitude could shut our doors."

Public colleges and universities face difficult decisions as they identify the impacts of potential reductions. The Missouri Department of Higher Education will receive all statements by Dec. 18 and will forward them along with a summary to the General Assembly by Dec. 22.