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Western hosting forums to talk finances

President Robert Vartabedian and Vice President Mel Klinkner are holding budget focus groups to discuss tuition increases and why we are looking at a 10 to 12 percent tuition increase.

The current $1 million shortfall that will grow to over a $3 million short fall by 2013 was discussed at the focus group and three options to solve the budget problem.

The first option would be to reduce personnel. Seventy five percent of Missouri Western’s budget is personnel and insurance. MWSU has grown by 18 percent in the last three years and has the same amount of full time personnel that it had 12 years ago.

“I think that is not an attractive alternative,” Vartabedian said. “I think we should be doing quite the contrary at the rate we are growing right know.”

The second option is to cap enrollment. Capping enrollment on the fastest growing state university in Missouri isn’t seen as a viable option either. This route would have some savings with it. The amount of savings would not be enough to cover the shortfalls.

President Vartabedian has been hosting budget focus forums to alert student of the current fiscal issues facing Western. Austin Gocher | Staff photographer

“To cap enrollment I think particularly for an open enrollment university would really be contrary to our best interest and I think certainly contrary to the best interest of citizens of Missouri,” Vartabedian said

The last option and what is being recommended to the Board of Governors on March 23, 2011, is to increase tuition by 10 to 12 percent. To put that into a dollar figure Vice President for Financial Planning and Administration Mel Klinkner thinks about $22.00 a credit hour. This tuition increase followed by another one the next year with no projection of how high that one will be, would allow MWSU by 2013 to unfreeze wages and hire more fulltime staff. This would also let the University add to it reserve fund, that it has been operating out of the last few years to cover budget shortfalls.

Director of University Honors Program Elizabeth Latosi-Sawin, believes that people in our region may not be aware of Western’s situation.

“I think the people in Northwest Missouri don’t understand how inequitable funding is for Missouri Western State University,” Elizabeth Latosi-Sawin said.

If the Board of Governors approves the tuition increase that doesn’t mean it will happen. Senate Bill 389 states higher education cannot raise its tuition above the consumer price index. That tuition cap can be raised if the commissioner of higher education approves a waiver. The commissioner can also decline the waiver and fine the institution.

“He can fine us to five percent of our state appropriation, for Missouri Western that is about $1 million,” Klinkner said.

Missouri Western State University has not raised tuition in the last two years. Western has done several things to keep from raising tuition. They have frozen salaries and wages for the last two years. Classrooms have been filled to capacity. They have eliminated administration positions.

“We are already asking the faculty here to do a lot more with a lot less,” Klinkner said.

The Golden Griffon scholarship was reduced. They also cut faculty salaries for summer school. Adjunct faculty has increased by 25% in the last two years.

The cause for the budget short fall comes in for several reasons one is tuition has not been raised in two years.

“The last two years Governor Nixon has made an agreement with the presidents that he wouldn’t cut higher education if they wouldn’t raise it a penny,” Vartabedian said.
Other reasons for the short fall are insurance and utility hikes and other miscellaneous expenses that take around 5% out of the budget every year. These expenses cannot be accounted for ahead of time.

There have been two of these budget focus groups and there are two left. The information provided in these focus groups will be made available on the Board of Governors web site in the coming month. In this focus group there where only three students present. Klinkner did inform us that all 6,134 students were invited to these budget forums. There was a lot of Missouri Western staff present.

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