The state of higher-education funding in Missouri is worrisome.
Each year, Missouri legislators decide how much of the state budget to allocate for higher education. While there are constraints that dictate how much the state can spend, primarily that only one-third of the total state budget is discretionary, funding has consistently lagged behind national standards, as seen in the State Higher Education Finance (SHEF) report. This annual report details the trends of secondary education funding for all 50 states dating back to 1980.
One of the more important data points in the SHEF report, the appropriations per full-time enrolled (FTE) student trend indicates changes in state and local support for public higher education in dollars per individual student. Looking at this metric, Missouri has experienced the 12th largest decrease in appropriations in the country, 26%, since 2008. While a decrease was expected to occur due to the 2008 recession, Missouri’s decrease in spending is still roughly 11% greater than the U.S. average.
“Frankly, I think there’s just a general dislike of higher education, based on my experience at the capital, the things I’ve heard, [things] legislators have said,” stated Dominique Paje, the UMKC chapter president of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri (ASUM).
The funding decreases come at the same time the state has experienced the seventh-largest enrollment growth of any U.S. state, a 14% increase since 2008. Missouri is also one of only two states that accept returns on appropriations, the other being Hawaii, and has received over $30 million in returns following the 2018-2019 school year. Comparatively, Hawaii received a $5 million return.
Missouri also mirrors a national trend of placing the responsibility of funding higher education squarely on its students’ shoulders. According to Paje, state funding used to account for two-thirds of higher education allocations with the other third coming from tuition revenue. In 2019, however, those numbers have flipped.
Paje also pointed to “brain drain,” the movement of graduates out of the state, as another possible reason higher education funding is less of a priority.
“Legislators have expressed that they’re not seeing much in return when they fund both K-12 and higher education for the Missouri economy,” Paje said.
UMKC Professor Jacob Marszalek, who also serves on the Intercampus Faculty Council (IFC), said that while Missouri has faced large cuts in the past, the last two years have been stable. He believes that due to the nature of the state budget, expanding mandated expenses such as Medicaid will ultimately cause state funding for higher education to decrease over time.
Both Marszalek and Paje note that some of the difficulty in securing more funding for higher education comes from the 1980 Hancock Amendment, which limits how much the state can increase tax revenue.
While funding is unlikely to change meaningfully during this legislative session, one thing is for certain: higher education funding is becoming an increasingly smaller part of the budget, and the future of funding is going to depend more and more on student enrollment and tuition.