Governor Eric Greitens’ proposed higher education budget cut of over $86 million would result in an estimated $2.2 million reduction for Missouri Western, but this isn’t new information.
Higher education has always been used as a discretionary fund. Higher education has faced significant cuts in its budget since the attack in New York City on Sep. 11., in 2001, after the great recession of 2008 and recent tax cuts made by Greitens, according to Executive Director of The Council on Public Higher Education Paul Wagner.
Due to the flexibility of its budget, higher education and kindergarten through 12th grade are some of the first places money will be taken from when Medicaid, the highway system and other federal programs need additional funding.
State funding has dropped about $97 million from 2003 to 2016 and student appropriations has dropped over $7 thousand in the span of 2003 to 2015. Western’s own appropriations since 2007 average to be about $22,131,814.5 thousand.
Greitens’ budget proposal in February left many lawmakers uneasy because of the large number of cuts. The Missouri House of Representatives Chair of Budget Scott Fitzpatrick has since proposed a budget that would grant higher education over $37.6 million and if tuition is not raised the full amount of $67.6 million the funding will be given back to higher education, according to the Kansas City Star.
Wagner agrees with Fitzpatrick that the proposed budget cuts are too much for higher education.
“We’ve heard the reaction to the governor’s cuts has been pretty consistent from the General Assembly that it’s not the right way to go and that they intend to replace as much of that money as possible to the budget,” Wagner said.
President Robert Vartabedian is not very worried about higher education cuts because of the General Assembly’s proposal.
“Well, if you had talked to me maybe six or seven weeks ago I’d say we are coming up with three different scenarios,” Vartabedian said. “A 10 percent cut scenario, maybe a five percent cut scenario and then a no percent-cut scenario. We’ve made the rounds to all the influential people that comes to budgeting for higher education and without an expectation they are very in support of higher education and want to minimize those cuts as much as possible. They not only told us the initial steps as it moves through the legislative process it would indicate that they are making good on their promise.”
Vartabedian said Western will continue to spend money cautiously.
While state funding for college students is declining, enrollment numbers are about the same. Over the last 10 years Western’s enrollment average has been around 6,523 students. Western’s enrollment numbers for the Fall of 2016 was 5,363 students.
With the number of students remaining similar, one question comes to mind. Is higher education being valued by Missourian lawmakers?
Wagner said there is no simple answer to whether or not higher education is valued.
“It depends on who you ask,” Wager said. “I think that there is a lot of value based on higher education, there just aren’t any easy choices when it comes to balancing the state’s budget. It’s always a balancing act between various education and health care corrections and all the major items.”
To Student Governor Joseph Kellogg these higher education cuts show that lawmakers don’t view college students as essential.
“[Lawmakers] are not meeting their obligation to the students of Missouri in funding higher education at the level they should,” Kellogg said. “In lawmakers’ eyes [higher education] is not viewed as essential as other programs are.”
Kellogg agrees with Fitzpatrick’s proposal to add to the higher education budget.
“We’re at the point now where there’s been some push-back from his proposed budget because there’s no more money to cut from higher education as we all know, here at Missouri Western especially,” Kellogg said. “We’ve cut about everything we can before we start just eliminating whatever it is, which is unfortunate that it’s gotten to this point.”
In the past Western has dealt with higher education cuts by arretion and by suspending programs that didn’t align with Western’s mission, according to Vartabedian.
“The biggest way we deal with them so that we don’t have any layoffs is attrition,” Vartabedian said. “If someone moves to another job or someone retires we very carefully look at that position and decide whether or not we’re going to fill it. That by far has been the biggest way to save money over the years.”
Last year Western Playhouse and the Western debate team were put on suspension due to higher education budget cuts. The Walter Cronkite Memorial was also placed on Maintenance Mode, only allowing sponsored shows to be played and little to no switching out of exhibits.
Due to the budget cuts over the last 10 years there have been very little pay raises for faculty and staff. The average salary for a Professor based on the past 10 years is $74,106. For Associate Professors the yearly earnings is about $60,599.
“In the ten years I’ve been unable to give raises to faculty so I’m not super happy about that either,” Vartabedian said. “You hope to give a cost of living raise at least. A big chunk of our budget is spent on personnel and their benefits and so that’s what we’re going to continue to do. We’re going to be cautious about filling positions unless they are truly justified.”
Missouri had a tuition cap bill in place that restricted universities from increasing the price of tuition if funds were too low elsewhere, but House Bill 2348, proposed by State Representative Charlie Davis, was recently passed. This bill allows university to increase the tuition by up to 10 percent by the end of May if there is no increase in state funding, according to Columbia Missourian.
Before this cap increase universities would gain those lost funds back by increasing campus fees.