Special Report: "The Price of Education"

Special Report: The Price of Education

COLUMBIA, Mo. - It's a tough time for Mizzou-and public higher education institutions across out state.

Higher education is facing significant challenges due to cuts from state appropriations, and specifically at the University of Missouri, a drop in enrollment

This year, the UM System's budget could go down by as much as $80 million as Gov. Greitens' proposed budget cuts core funding for the UM System by 10 percent. 

"$80 million represents the operating budget for about eight times the College of Engineering at Mizzou," UM System President Mun Choi said in an interview with ABC 17 News. "That's the kind of impact we're facing." 

This year's proposed cuts come after a nine percent cut last year and more than a decade of decreased state funding. 

"Right now we are running very lean. The number of faculty members at Mizzou has actually decreased over the past five years, and many of our staff members are providing additional support because of the staff separations we've had," Choi said. 

Last year, there were more than 500 faculty and staff separations across the system with more than 300 of those at Mizzou. That was after a $40 million cut. 

"That's what we're trying to avoid," Choi said. 

As a result of the proposed cuts, Choi said the system is asking for relief from Senate Bill 389. Passed in 2007, Senate Bill 389 caps tuition increases at CPI.

"It's very important for us to have the flexibility to charge tuition that can be tested by the market place," Choi said.

"This is a competitive market," MU economics professor Joe Haslag explained, "So what you want to figure out is what's the price that someone is wiling to pay to consume or invest in a University of Missouri Columbia education."

If the tuition cap is lifted, Choi said the system won't lose sight of affordability. 

"When we increase tuition we're going to be mindful of the cost of attendance so that we put more resources into need based scholarships for our students," he explained. 

"They would never go to a place where they’re pricing themselves out of the market because if they do then enrollment is going to go down and they are going to have another problem on their hands," Rowden said. 

State leaders said the lack of funding is already causing problems in our state. In the UM System, Choi said there are now 200 more students attending universities in Arkansas when compared to 10 years ago. 

"That represents a brain drain," Choi said. "The likelihood of that student who goes out of the state to study, leads to a higher likelihood that that person will  stay in that location to further their careers. We want to have those students pursue their careers here in Missouri." 

Asked about the long-term effects on our state's economy, Rowden replied, "It could be potentially devasting." 

Not only do universities help produce an educated work force, but there is also value for the student. 

"The value added of a bachelor's degree versus a high school diploma, means, over the course of a person's lifetime, about a million dollars in purchasing power," Haslag said. "If I told you, I'll give you a million dollars if you give me $250,000, you're probably going to take that bet every time." 

Rowden said investing in higher education isn't "optional."

"To implicate that investing in higher education is optional I think is asinine," he said. "I think it's incredibly shortsighted." 

A study is currently in the works on the UM System's economic impact. Choi said he expects the impact to be above $3 billion a year. That return is more than seven times the state's investment.

"An investment in higher education is an investment in the future," Choi said. 

“We have to think longer term," Rowden echoed. "We've got to do it because if we don't we're going to put the next generation in a box that they might not be able to get out of." 

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