Two years ago the Missouri General Assembly passed legislation to help the state’s public universities with their building needs. If schools raise money to upgrade buildings or construct new ones, the legislature is authorized to match the funds dollar for dollar.
It’s a good idea. Missouri’s universities are faced with huge maintenance backlogs and inadequate space to educate students, especially in the job-rich fields of math, science, technology and engineering. A multi-million dollar bond issue is in order. But that would require voter approval, and so far, unfortunately, lawmakers haven’t been keen about putting a proposal on the ballot.
The matching-fund idea, called the 50-50 plan, is a way to get started.
But the legislation only says the state “may” appropriate money if universities do their part and raise private funds. Therein lies the choice currently staring at lawmakers.
Even with revenues improving, legislators are juggling competing requests for money. But they should make every effort to live up to their end of the bargain and support worthy projects.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City used the 50-50 plan to raise $7.4 million, mostly from the Kauffman Foundation, to go toward construction of a $14.8 million, high-tech “free enterprise center.” Complete with labs, rapid prototyping equipment and collaborative space, it is envisioned as a resource for engineering and business students and also for middle- and-high school science teachers and their students.
This is a venture that would help prepare more students to work and even lead in fields where jobs are plentiful. The university and its funders deserve to be rewarded for their initiative. A match from the state would likely encourage potential donors to help with other worthy ventures, most notably a downtown campus for UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance.
The four campuses of the University of Missouri system have raised a total of $40 million in private money, in hopes of getting the state to match the funds. Other public universities also have raised money for projects. Legislators should acknowledge the crucial role of these schools in boosting the state’s economy and help them build for the future.