Future of state universities in doubt?

Commentary is a regular UMSL Daily column written by members of the UMSL community.

By KEITH WOMER

Are we observing a downward spiral toward the end of the state university? In the past three years the University of Missouri–St Louis has suffered budget cuts in state appropriations of $2.9 million, $3.7 million and $3 million. In the coming year we are projected to see a $6.8 million cut. This represents a decrease of more than 25 percent of state funding.

The current progression suggests that in the near future the state of Missouri will be out of the business of funding higher education. Despite these cuts, the College of Business Administration continues to be highly regulated. Raises and pensions are rigidly controlled by the state as are tuitions and fees.

Will UMSL transition to become a private university catering only to those students who can afford substantially higher tuition? Will we find ways to offer services for hire to the business community to offset state funding losses and subsidize our students? Will the citizens of Missouri declare enough is enough and force the legislature to increase funding for higher education?

As a graduate of state universities, I do have confidence that the state will wise up at some point and halt the downward spiral.

Why would I have such confidence? I am confident because, in the course of our capital campaign, I have met with hundreds of UMSL business alumni who care deeply for their alma mater. They believe, as I do, that the mission of UMSL, to educate the young people of St Louis, is vital to the success of our city.

In the course of our campaign we have raised nearly $12 million for the first building that will be dedicated to the College of Business. We have also raised nearly $6 million for scholarships and faculty support. I am truly grateful for this support and for the confidence that it inspires in me.

There is a second reason for my confidence; two members of the legislature have introduced bills, both on Jan 12, promising funding for our business building.

Sen. Tim Green (D-Spanish Lake) introduced SB 655. The bill would create a Higher Education Capital Fund for the General Assembly to appropriate matching funds to public state universities or colleges for capital projects. In order to receive the matching funds, a university or college must raise 50 percent of the cost of the capital project from private donations or grants. This bill has now passed the Senate.

The second bill is HJR 57 by Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia). The resolution proposes a constitutional amendment authorizing the General Assembly to issue bonds to fund higher education improvements, construction, landscaping and land purchases. Either or both of these offer hope that the state will not turn its back on higher education.

I urge each of you to contact your representative or senator and let them know that you believe state funded higher education is important for Missouri’s future. Or join me and other members of the UMSL community for the 38th annual Legislative Day April 3 at the Missouri State Capitol. With your help we will not only be able to complete the capital campaign but also secure the commitment of the state to partner with us in funding a building for the College of Business Administration.

Keith Womer is dean of the College of Business Administration at UMSL.


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