Jefferson City - The Missouri Department of Higher Education today summarized and forwarded to the General Assembly reports from the state's colleges and universities describing the impacts from possible cuts in state appropriations.

The colleges and universities described scenarios including lay-offs, tuition increases, closed facilities, canceled courses, larger class sizes, fewer experienced faculty and many other adverse effects if 15, 20 or 25 percent cuts are enacted. The scenarios were requested by the General Assembly based on anticipated revenue shortfalls in the next fiscal year.

Paul Wagner, deputy commissioner of higher education, says public institutions were barely regaining state appropriations equal to 2001-02 levels, the year before appropriations to colleges and universities were slashed to balance the state budget.

"Enrollment statewide has increased by 15,000 students while institutions have been financially squeezed to maintain the same levels of academic quality," Wagner says. "I think, if the cuts are made, Missouri will slip even farther behind other states at a time when we need to reinvigorate the economy, raise worker productivity and compete globally with an educated workforce."

Public institutions of higher education have a direct $3 billion impact on the economy of Missouri through employee salaries and benefits, equipment and expenses. The economic stimulus to local communities generates additional revenues related to student services that are essential to the region's economic viability.

In St. Joseph, for example, Missouri Western State University is the city's tenth largest employer and supports an additional 1,036 jobs in the community. It generates about $160.9 million for the region each year, almost three times the amount of its direct expenditures for salaries and expense. A reduction in state appropriations will have a proportionate impact on the region's economy.

"A decline in state support of the magnitudes they are considering would be felt throughout every region, not as a ripple but as a tidal wave," says MWSU President Robert A. Vartabedian.

"Institutions made great strides in improving efficiencies during the last six years," says Commissioner of Higher Education Robert B. Stein. "Higher education continues to look for ways to reduce costs and to restructure based on the conditions of the state and national economy. A repeat of 2002, when their cuts were disproportionate to the rest of general revenue reductions, would be detrimental to Missouri's future."

When the state appropriation to higher education was slashed in 2001-02, institutions phased out academic programs, held salaries below inflation rates, used more adjunct faculty, reduced staff and deferred needed maintenance and repair to facilities. Stein says future cuts would accelerate a downward spiral.

The state's community colleges, who submitted standardized impact statements, predicted average tuition increases ranging from 6 to 9.5 percent and the elimination of 198 to 234 positions if faced with reduced appropriations. Community colleges would be forced to close some facilities, reduce financial aid and lose more than $5 million in outside grants that require a financial match.

"It's well known that enrollment in community colleges goes up during tough economic times," says Jackie Snyder, president of Kansas City's Metropolitan Community College. "We can't simultaneously enroll more students while slashing our budgets. It just doesn't add up."

The Missouri Department of Higher Education (MDHE), along with other state agencies, was also asked to describe the impact of 15, 20 and 25 percent budget cuts. The MDHE budget was slashed in 2001-02 along with institutions, resulting in a reduction in the number of employees supported by general revenue funds from 35 to 12.

Since that time, additional statutory obligations have been assigned to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education, whose administrative arm, MDHE, is the smallest state agency. Modest budget increases were made to accommodate the new duties, allowing general revenue-funded staff to grow to 17 full-time equivalent positions.

"We have yet to get up to full capacity," says Stein. "Several staff members fulfill multiple functions that would occupy two or three positions each in other agencies. We can't put additional burdens on them without sacrificing some of our statutory duties."