Lawmakers from the Missouri Senate and House hashed out an agreement Tuesday to raise caps on tuition increases.
The tentative agreement would allow public higher education institutions to raise tuition to match any increase in the consumer-price index, plus an additional increase of up to 5 percent, but only in cases where state funding had been cut the previous year. And in those cases, the increase could not exceed the amount of the previous year’s cut. The compromise is part of SB 807.
Essentially, this would help universities like MU recoup a loss in state funding.
“All we’re doing is trying to help higher education in bad times. Right now what we do in bad times is that in order to fix the budget, we just take it from higher ed,” said Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, who chairs the House Committee on Higher Education. “But this is where we get our workforce from.”
Such cuts of higher education funding have happened numerous times in recent years, including Gov. Eric Greitens’ proposed $30 million budget cut from higher education for 2019. The governor’s proposed cuts were restored only recently.
Currently, Missouri colleges can only increase tuition according to inflation rates. The current 5-percent proposal came as a midway point between HB 2348, which proposed up to a 10-percent cap, and lawmakers who preferred to not grant universities any tuition cap increases.
While virtually all members of the conference committee that hashed out the agreement did not object to the current proposal, Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, expressed some concern about whether it would pass the full House and Senate. He noted that SB 912, sponsored by Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, which already had the 5-percent language, did not get out of the Senate.
“I’m sensitive to the fact that universities need full funding to operate, but I also didn’t want to have unlimited increases that would potential harm enrollment,” Holsman said. “I’m supportive of the compromise and I think 5 percent is reasonable.”
The tuition cap was one of many components of a much larger bill, serving as a vehicle in an attempt to get other higher education-related legislation passed.
One component would require college students to score at least a 70 percent on a civics exam, which consists of 50 to 100 questions similar to those on a U.S. citizenship exam.
“It’s important, just so people know what the government says in the United States,” said Lichtenegger.
The bill also would allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees, while stating that only MU can offer doctoral degrees. Officials from the University of Missouri System and other schools were involved in working out this portion of the bill.
Other components of the bill include allowing students taking online classes to access scholarship funds and requiring more transparency for colleges that aren’t accredited.
One component, which was removed in conference committee, was the Uniform Athlete Agents Act, which would have prosecuted people posing as agents who take advantage of student-athletes. Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, expressed frustration that it would not be included in this bill.
“We have an epidemic in this country posing as ruthless agents preying on young student-athletes putting their futures and that of universities at risks,” said Razer. “It’s a shame that, as easily as we got this through the House, it’s another year that preying is allowed to moved forward.”
Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, who chairs the Senate education committee, said he understood Razer, but responded that the proposed law still needed more time in the Senate for it to move forward.
The bill will now go back to both the House and Senate floors for final approval. The session ends at 6 p.m. Friday.
KBIA Reporter Sarah Kellogg contributed to this report.
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