A few strings are attached to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s agreement with the state’s public colleges and universities to freeze next year’s tuition in exchange for an overall $55.7 million funding increase.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly must agree to spend the money, and college and university boards must sign off on the tuition part.
But to oppose the Democratic governor’s proposal would be foolish. Nixon’s agreement with higher education leaders signals great news for students and their families and for Missouri, too.
Holding down tuition has been a signature achievement of Nixon’s administration. The freeze being proposed would be the fourth since he became governor in 2009.
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Tuition had skyrocketed in the years before Nixon took office, making Missouri’s public universities among the priciest in the Midwest.
Since 2009, however, tuition and required fees have gone up only 7 percent. That’s the smallest increase in the nation, according to data from the College Board. The average increase nationally over that period was 29 percent.
Tuition at Missouri’s universities, while still onerous for many families and ranking around the middle of the 50 states, is now more in line with neighboring states. Full-time in-state students at the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus are paying $10,586 in tuition and fees this year. Their peers at the University of Kansas pay tuition and fees totaling $10,448.
The new money offered in Nixon’s agreement will be awarded to schools through performance funding, which is another positive higher education development ushered in during his tenure.
To fully qualify for a funding increase under state law, schools must meet five performance indicators, having in general to do with student success, attainment of degrees or certificates, and fiscal responsibility. A fifth of the available amount will be withheld for every indicator not met.
The state embraced performance funding in 2011, when higher education commissioner David Russell convened a task force to decide how to measure progress at public four-year colleges and two-year schools. The system has been in place for three years, and most four-year schools are close to attaining all five metrics.
Two-year schools, which are more affected by economic trends, are having a tougher time. Some students dropped out when the job market improved, affecting completion and certificate rates, for instance.
But Russell said performance funding is pushing community colleges to move students more quickly through remedial courses that cost money but don’t result in college credits.
“I’ve always felt that it is an excellent way to push state priorities for all of higher education,” he said. “If we didn’t have performance funding we would need to invent it.”
One more plus for Nixon’s proposed deal with colleges and universities: The schools have agreed to use almost $10 million of the anticipated $55.7 million increase for programs related to science, technology, engineering and math. Those are job-rich areas where employers are pleading for well-trained and educated graduates.
Missouri has made progress under the leadership of Nixon and Russell in making higher education more affordable and more relevant to a changing workforce. Those changes will help Missouri retain and recruit bright young people and pump more dollars into the state’s economy. As with Nixon’s proposed deal, everyone stands to win.