Missouri Considers Four-year Tuition Lock
Looking to neighboring Illinois as a model, University of Missouri President Elson Floyd has proposed a four-year tuition lock that would guarantee payments won’t increase once an undergraduate starts school.
In June, Floyd asked university curators to consider guaranteeing a single tuition rate for incoming freshmen as well as other enrolled undergraduates for the remainder of their courses of study. Floyd has yet to determine the plan’s fiscal impact but will hit the road in August to build support with a series of public forums across the state.
“We’ve had a lot of volatility over the last five years, particularly with tuition and fees,” he said. “What we need to do is provide some stability.”
Since 1993, tuition for in-state students at the Missouri system’s four campuses has increased an average of 8.3 percent annually. Missouri residents who paid $2,733 in tuition a dozen years ago paid $6,276, or more than twice as much, in the most recent academic year.
Those annual increases include a 14.8 percent jump in 2002 and a 19.8 percent jump in 2003. At the same time, state support has been reduced by a total of $148 million in the past five years, while the campuses in St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia and Rolla have added a combined 7,000 students.
Lawmakers and higher education leaders in Kansas, New York, Indiana, Iowa and other states are also considering ways to give students and their parents a better sense of what up to now have been highly fluctuating costs, including tying tuition increases to inflation rates.
“What our universities have done is attempt to predict the future,” said Don Sevener, a spokesman for the Higher Education Board of Illinois, which just completed its first year with a tuition lock.
For eight of Illinois’ public universities, that meant tuition increases ranging from 16 percent to nearly 20 percent for first-year students last year. Increases for returning students at those schools ranged from 4.5 percent to 13.3 percent.
Tuition increases at a ninth Illinois university, Chicago State, were markedly higher, at 44.8 for first-year students. But that school’s previous tuition rates were based on a lighter course load, said Sevener. The adjusted increase was closer to 15 percent, he said.
Floyd acknowledged that his proposal would require freshmen to bear a heavier financial burden, at least initially. Some student leaders cite that inequality for their opposition to a tuition freeze.
“While the idea sounds great, it would be a good plan if the state has the capability and means to do so,” said Craig Kleine, a University of Missouri-Columbia senior and chairman of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri, a lobbying group.
Greg Fitch, Missouri’s commissioner for higher education, said any plan to increase tuition in order to freeze rates must also consider the impact of financial aid on the initial added costs.
Floyd said he doesn’t expect state support to suddenly eliminate the need to set more stable tuition rates. He hopes to have a tuition lock in place by summer 2006.
“We have no expectation we’re going to see a significant new influx of state appropriations,” he said.
Town hall meetings are planned for next month and September at the four Missouri system campuses. Floyd will also visit high school gyms and auditoriums in smaller communities such as West Plains, Marceline, Portageville, Lebanon and Maryville.
“We’ll take this proposal to the people,” said Floyd. “I think that’s the best way to develop public policy.”
For colleges and universities faced with annual uncertainty over state appropriations, guaranteeing tuition rates is becoming an increasingly popular alternative, said Paul Lingenfelter, executive director of the Colorado-based State Higher Education Executive Officers.
Such plans not only help families budget college costs, they also motivate students to finish college in four or five years, not six, seven or even more, he said.
“They have an incentive to get finished,” Lingenfelter said.
— Associated Press
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