Missouri Colleges Constraining Tuition, But Raising Course Fees

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway has released a report that details how many colleges and universities in the state have been working to keep tuition at the same level each year for in-state students. But Galloway added that instead, more institutions of higher education are requiring increasing fees for specific courses and other reasons.

The state has a nearly 10-year-old law that requires universities to keep tuition costs for in-state students at or under the value of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is a percentage amount that reflects how Missouri is performing economically, reports Ashley Jost for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The CPI stayed at about 1.8% between the years of 2008 and 2015, and colleges and universities hovered around a 1.6% increase in tuition. But the audit showed a rise in supplemental fees to the tune of a whopping 138% over a six-year span, even as state funding for colleges and universities dropped by approximately $1,500 per learner.

“The purpose of the Higher Education Student Funding Act is to keep the cost of college affordable for Missouri students and families. It defeats the intent of the law when there is no cap or limit on certain fees,” Galloway said in a statement, referring to the law that caps tuition. “The General Assembly should take action to address this issue, because while fees continue to rise, state funding per student has decreased.”

Galloway is pushing for clarification from the Missouri Coordinating Board of Higher Education concerning the law that caps “required fees” and tuition. The added fees are only paid by students taking specific programs or classes, so the state treats them as an “exception.” This loophole and the cap on tuition are what Galloway wants the Legislature to consider.

Galloway points out the University of Missouri-St. Louis charges undergraduate nursing students an extra $215.60 per credit hour, which is one of the largest price add-ons in the state.

KTTN Radio reports that the Coordinating Board for Higher Education and the Commissioner of Higher Education are the two entities that review tuition rates submitted to them by the state’s 13 public 4-year schools, as well as the State Technical College of Missouri, to decide if they are in compliance with the legislation.

The state requires four higher education audits in all. The second is a financial investigation of the Department of Higher Education which was released earlier this month. And there are ongoing examinations of higher education performance funding and the University of Missouri System Administration.

The result is that students in Missouri have a harder time paying to attend public colleges and universities. However, the state’s Department of Higher Education said the 2007  law had controlled the cost of tuition and fees that full-time undergraduate students attending and living on campuses of Missouri public universities and colleges had to pay. The Department boasted that tuition increases in the state are among the lowest in the country.

Still, according to Dale Singer, writing for KWMU Public Radio, the state ranks 43rd in the nation when ranked for the amount of state funding that is allotted for higher education based on each $1,000 in families’ personal income. In the 2015 fiscal year, the figure was $4.09 while the national average was $5.55.

For average state appropriations per student, Missouri ranks 39th, and the share of college costs paid by the state decreased 27.8% between 2009 and 2014.

For the percent of state aid that is based on the need of a family and not on the merit of the student, Missouri ranks 34th at 56%, while the national average is 76%.

The Associated Press quoted Galloway, who said:

“Someone’s going to pay for the education, and it is being passed on to students and families.

Some schools, Galloway noted, have attempted to save money by putting off maintenance on physical plants, increasing the size of classes, combining or doing away with departments, and not rehiring new professors to fill vacant positions. Galloway explained that schools could make only so many cost-cutting decisions before the quality of the institution is negatively affected.