JEFFERSON CITY | Missouri colleges and universities agreed Tuesday to accept $42 million in budget cuts and pledged to hold tuition steady for most students in the next academic year.
Gov. Jay Nixon announced the agreement in visits to Missouri State University and the University of Missouri-St. Louis, calling it critical to keeping college affordable during the recession.
“To turn this economy around, Missourians must be trained, educated and ready to work, and that’s why it was vital that we kept tuition flat for Missouri families,” Nixon, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Under the agreement, universities would see a 5.2 percent cut next year in the $807.9 million currently allocated for four-year institutions. The reductions would be spread across the state’s 13 public universities.
The freeze on tuition would apply only to in-state, undergraduate students. Officials said tuition likely would rise for graduate and out-of-state students, and the plan does not preclude possible increases to room, board and other student fees.
University presidents agreed to the plan because without it they feared the troubled economy could force even larger cuts from the state.
“This agreement mitigates the magnitude of the cuts,” said Gary Forsee, University of Missouri president. “We have been protected. We obviously like the certainty of this.”
Bo Fraser, chairman of the University of Missouri Board of Curators, said the agreement represents a recognition of the state’s financial plight.
“The state is in an extreme budget situation,” Fraser said. “This seems like a reasonable solution. Even though we don’t like that we are going to get cuts, everyone is going to have to share in the pain.”
However, the arrangement is not a done deal. Governing boards from the universities could still reject it or the Republican-led General Assembly could approve a budget with different or deeper cuts than those outlined by Nixon.
Lawmakers are “expecting bad news” concerning the budget when they return to Jefferson City in January, but it’s far too early to know what cuts are necessary, said state Rep. Allen Icet, the House Budget chairman.
But Icet, a Republican, agreed that if the governor’s office has worked out an arrangement that university officials are comfortable with, the legislature is apt to accept it.
Of the $42 million in cuts, about $21 million would be absorbed by the University of Missouri’s four campuses. The bulk of that, about $11 million, would come from the Columbia campus, Forsee said.
No one knows yet what new reductions campuses would make. They’ve already cut back on travel and administrative costs, reduced programs and staff and imposed hiring freezes.
“The good part about the latest proposal is that students and families will not be burdened with added costs,” Fraser said. “We are not going to put the budget woes of the state on the backs of the students.”
Aaron Podelefsky, president of the University of Central Missouri, added that — while he would “rather be seeing double-digit increases” in the state’s higher education budget — “I do think because of this plan Missouri will be the envy of surrounding states.”