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University of Missouri president will recommend a tuition freeze

University of Missouri

University of Missouri

The president of the University of Missouri system said he would recommend that tuition at the system’s four campuses be frozen in the 2014-15 school year.

The recommendation — which will go before the system’s Board of Trustees for approval next week — comes after Gov. Jay Nixon proposed this week injecting more than $80 million into higher education.

In exchange for that investment, Nixon has called on colleges and universities in the state not to raise costs, saying that undergrads “should not have to pay a penny more in tuition next year.”

Tim Wolfe, president of the UM system, told the Post-Dispatch editorial board Friday that he believed the system could make that agreement.

Previously, the system’s curators had been moving ahead on a plan that would have called for a 1.5 percent tuition spike — an amount that would be tied to the rise of the Consumer Price Index.

The last time tuition remained flat was four years ago. Last year, Curators voted to increase tuition on its four campuses by 1.7 percent — the rate of inflation — for Missouri resident undergraduate students.

That’s also how much tuition will increase for incoming freshmen at University of Illinois campuses next year after a vote by trustees on Thursday.

Wolfe said he would send his recommendation to trustees, who would probably take up the matter at a meeting scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

Nixon’s proposal — shared in his State of the State address Tuesday — calls for a 5 percent jump in core appropriations to higher education. In addition, he is proposing $22 million on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, initiatives; and nearly $20 million to add 1,200 classroom slots for students in mental health fields.

But there is a vast divide between Nixon’s spending plan and those of the Legislature, where Republican leaders are using more conservative projections on economic growth.

Despite that, Wolfe said he is confident the Legislature also is committed to spending more on higher education.

“We feel good that they are going to work to support what the governor has in mind” in terms of higher education spending, Wolfe said.

Nixon’s budget proposal would bring $21.3 million to the UM system in terms of core appropriations, Wolfe said. In contrast, a 1.5 percent tuition increase would generate $3.8 million.

Yet, although Wolfe said he was encouraged by this week’s developments, he expressed continued concern about the state’s broader financial commitment to higher education.

He said the system’s campuses had profound needs in terms of facilities and the maintenance and upkeep of buildings.

For example, he said, a lack of science lab space is making it difficult to keep up with efforts to produce more graduates in STEM fields. He said the system would like to produce an additional 18,000 such graduates by the year 2020.

“We have a very, very steep hill to climb,” he said. “The bottleneck is lab space and lab investment.”

Wolfe was accompanied Friday by University of Missouri-St. Louis Chancellor Tom George, who said his campus had not benefited from a major state investment in higher education buildings since 2003. That was when he was handed the keys to the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center.

Also on Friday, Wolfe visited Bayless high school and middle school students as part of his tour that began last March to promote the value of college. Wolfe said he feared that some students were reconsidering a college education because of worries about debt and job placement rates.

This isn’t the first time Nixon has sought a tuition freeze. In 2009, Nixon promised to hold state appropriations level if colleges and universities would toe the line on tuition. At the time, state revenue had been battered by the recession and universities faced potential state cuts of as high as 25 percent. In the end, the deal went through.

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