The president of the University of Missouri says he will go along with Gov. Jay Nixon’s request and recommend that tuition for the system’s four campuses not go up next year.
Tim Wolfe, who visited with junior and senior high school students in the Bayless School District in south St. Louis County Friday morning, said that the additional revenue proposed by Nixon in his State of the State address earlier this week should provide the four-campus system with the money it needs without raising tuition.
The final decision on tuition will be made by the system’s Board of Curators, which meets in Columbia next week. Tuition for the coming school year usually is set at the January meeting, but Wolfe said that the decision could be put off until next month depending on legislative action on Nixon’s proposals.
“My recommendation based on what the governor has proposed is to keep tuition flat,” Wolfe said in an interview after the Bayless session, which is part of his tour of the state to emphasize the value of a college education in general and the University of Missouri in particular.
“Again, if something happens with the general assembly that does not support that, we have the opportunity to reconsider that and resubmit that to the board. But at this particular point in time, I believe that what will be directed our way as proposed by the governor is the resources that we need to cover our costs and to continue to provide the quality education experience that we need to.”
Nixon’s speech Tuesday night gave great emphasis to education. For the state’s public colleges and universities, he proposed an additional $100 million for a variety of programs, including $22 million for the so-called STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math.
In return for the added state support, he said the schools should not raise tuition, and he also proposed more money for scholarship programs for students from low-income families.
“That’s right,” Nixon said. “Under my budget, Missouri undergraduates at our public universities should not have to pay a penny more for tuition next year. Not a penny.
"And no student should have to settle for less education, just because their parents make less money.”
In November, the curators heard a proposal that would have raised tuition for the 2014-15 school year by 1.7 percent, matching the projected rate of inflation. Under state law, that would be the most they could raise tuition without a waiver from the Department of Higher Education.
If that increase would win approval, yearly tuition at the four campuses in the University of Missouri system would average $9,464. The Rolla campus, Missouri Science & Technology, would have the highest annual tuition at $9,510, followed by $9,474 in St. Louis, $9,456 in Kansas City and $9,415 in Columbia.
Wolfe said that a more modest increase of 1.5 percent would be more likely, if tuition is increased at all. But, he said, Nixon’s challenge to keep tuition flat is appropriate.
“We are going to give the Board of Curators the information that the governor proposed in the State of the State,” he said, “in terms of the 5 percent appropriation increase as well as the 3 percent increase in staff, put the numbers together in terms of what that means from the revenue standpoint and also put the numbers together in terms of what that means for tuition at CPI of 1.5 percent would mean and give them the information.
“At the end of the day, the Board of Curators will decide what to do with tuition.”
On Thursday, the University of Illinois announced a tuition increase of 1.7 percent that would raise the cost of four years of college for many students to more than $100,000 for the first time.
On Friday, Washington University announced a 3.6 percent increase for the fall, raising tuition to $45,700 a year.
The cost of college was one of the questions on the minds of the Bayless students who attended Wolfe’s presentation, which was part of what the university calls his “Show Me Value Tour.”
Beginning last year, he has traveled around the state to communicate the value of higher education to Missourians -- and, by extension, to their legislators. His visit to Bayless was the first stop of 2014 and his first in the St. Louis area.
Wolfe said his main message was that students should each find their own pathway to success, but in any case having a college degree will help them live longer, earn more and have more choices in a changing workplace.
Over their lifetimes, he told the students, graduating from college can mean earning $540 a week more for the rest of their lives.
He emphasized he was not there to tell them they have to attend one of the UM campuses. “I’m here to tell you first and foremost you should be yourself,” Wolfe said.
Recalling that he was “a bit of an unfocused student” in high school -- concentrating more on football, working at a gas station and girls -- he said that because both of his parents were professors in Columbia, he was expected to go to college. He ended up graduating from the business school at Mizzou, a background that led to a career in communications that he said let him spread his wings and travel the world.
To give an idea of the doors that a diploma can open, Wolfe played a “Guess the major” game, where students correctly determined that Jay Leno majored in speech therapy, Ludacris majored in business and music management and Shaquille O’Neal earned a doctorate in education.
And he got down to the question that everyone seems to ask these days: Is a college degree worth the money it costs. Not surprisingly, Wolfe’s answer is a resounding yes: “There is no greater commitment you can make in yourself than higher education.”
He emphasized the need to plan, so that their futures are determined by “choice, not chance,” and he pointed out that even the quoted tuition costs are often reduced by scholarships, loans or both.
“Do not let finances or the sticker prices scare you away from college,” Wolfe told the students.
Asking for questions, he wandered the auditorium, choosing from the dozens of hands that shot up. Students wanted to know about majors, about transferring from one school to the next, about robotics and medicine and other degrees, about what colleges look for in a student and about taking courses online.
One of the biggest advantages of going away to school, Wolfe told the students, is getting away from your parents and learning to make your own decisions and trying out new things. Plus, he said, “you have a bunch of fun.”
But there was one question he would not answer. When one student asked which of the university’s four campuses was the best, Wolfe laughed and showed the decision-making of a true diplomat:
“They’re all the best,” he said.