Missouri Senate votes to remove cap on public college tuition increases

By: - May 13, 2021 8:47 am

The University of Missouri-Columbia’s iconic columns, remains of the school’s first building, stand in front of Jesse Hall, which houses administrative offices. (University of Missouri photo)

Two years after giving colleges and universities power to shift losses from state budget cuts to students, the Missouri Senate voted Wednesday night to completely repeal the cap on tuition increases.

The bill would also allow student athletes to profit from the use of their likeness or image in advertising or other commercial venues without losing their athletic scholarships.

By a vote of 23-9, the Senate sent the multi-faceted higher education bill back to the House with several changes, including new language for elections that expand community college districts. If the House doesn’t agree with the changes, the chambers have until 6 p.m. Friday to work out their differences.

The bill is a top priority for the University of Missouri, which wants to charge students different amounts based on their course of study. Students with higher instruction costs and higher earnings potential would be charged more, an idea that has been discussed in meetings of the Board of Curators for several years.

Other four-year institutions support the change but have not made it a priority, Paul Wagner, executive director of the Council on Public Higher Education, said during the debate.

Repeal did not sit well with some lawmakers, but opponents did not filibuster the change.

“I shudder to think what the university might be doing if we remove this cap altogether,” Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, said.

Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, replied that tuition increases would be constrained by competition, both from within and without the state.

“If Mizzou prices themselves out of a student, then Missouri State is a great school, as is Southeast Missouri (State University),” she said. 

Southeast Missouri State is in Rehder’s district.

In 2008, lawmakers set a hard cap on tuition increases, tying new costs to inflation. By 2015, according to a report from the State Auditor’s Office, average tuition in Missouri had increased by the smallest amount in the nation since it took effect.
The cap was loosened in 2018, allowing schools to increase costs by up to 5 percent beyond inflation when state tax support is reduced.

Tuition on the four UM campuses – Columbia, Kansas City, Rolla and St. Louis – ranges from $313.90 per credit hour at UMKC to $379 per credit hour at UMSL. The curators are expected to meet later this month to approve tuition increases ranging from 2 percent at UMSL to 5 percent at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

But to avoid the cap, a multitude of course fees have been added, with 61 at the UMC alone. They range from $42.60 per credit hour in the Veterinary College to $218.10 per credit hour in the College of Engineering.

“Legislation requires separate tracking of student approved fees, leading to multiple lines on bills and students feeling nickeled and dimed,” a presentation given April 22 to the UM System’s Board of Curators stated. “Students cannot predict (the) total cost of each semester, as course fees vary.”

The tuition repeal is just one part of the higher education bill that started as a proposal to give Southeast Missouri State University a statewide mission to provide education in visual and performing arts, computer science, and cybersecurity. 

It now includes a statewide mission for Northwest Missouri State University in educator preparation, emergency and disaster management, and profession-based learning. 

It also has provisions that would change the language for elections expanding community college districts and a “Students’ Right to Know Act.”

That section requires the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development to compile an annual report listing the jobs in the highest demand, as well as information about tuition, student loan debt averages and default rates for each school, and the average starting salaries of graduates.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

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