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Does Missouri care about college? Funding for higher education hangs in the balance

The state of higher education funding in Missouri is worrisome. 

As legislators gather annually to determine how much of the state’s budget will be allocated towards postsecondary education, funding for Missouri’s public universities continues to lag behind national standards.

“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,” said Dominique Paje, the president of the UMKC’s chapter of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri.

While there are constraints that dictate how much of the state’s budget can be spent on higher education, as only one-third of the budget is discretionary, Missouri has experienced the 12th largest decrease in appropriations in the country (26%) since 2008. 

The data comes from the recently published State Higher Education Finance (SHEF) report, an annual analysis of trends in higher education funding across all 50 states. This year’s report showed Missouri’s decrease in spending is still roughly 11% greater than the U.S. average, despite anticipating a decrease in funding as a long-term effect of the 2008 recession. 

These funding decreases have also occurred during the same period that Missouri has experienced the seventh-largest growth in enrollment of any U.S. state, a 14% increase since 2008. 

According to Paje, Missouri’s higher education budget mirrors a national trend that places the responsibility of funding postsecondary education squarely on students’ shoulders. In prior decades, 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. 

The chapter president pointed to “brain drain” as one potential reason for why higher education funding has become less of a priority, referring to Missouri students that leave the state after graduating college. 

“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 said the education budget has been stable for the last two years, despite facing large cuts in the past. However, he said he does expect Missouri’s higher education funding to decrease over time as a result of ever-expanding mandated expenses, like Medicaid, which will require larger portions of the budget.

Both Marszalek and Paje said that some of the difficulty in securing more funding for higher education comes from the 1980 Hancock Amendment, an act which limits how much Missouri 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.

ccwykr@mail.umkc.edu

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1 COMMENT

  1. College administrators and professors are who doesn’t care about affordable higher education for parents and students. The public higher education salaries and benefits for 9 hours of classroom work per week and 8 months of physical presence on campus is astronomical compared to what parents earn in the private sector. Lifetime retirement benefits, $100k + salaries, 4 months of vacation etc. just are not sustainable by taxpayers.

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