Governor Nixon lays out four charges for the leaders of colleges and universities in the state, with hopes to reach an ambitious goal.
Nixon tells the presidents and chancellors at the Governor’s Summit for Higher Education in Jefferson City that one charge is to make sure institutions are taking extra steps to see students all the way through to graduation. The second is a complete statewide review of programs.
“We need to get an actual, provable document that explains to Missourians, and to me, what we’re getting out of the classes. Where they’re being offered, whether they’re duplicative, whether we have some degree regiments that could be better handled at other schools,” Nixon said.
Which feeds into the third charge; working on more collaboration, even among separate institutions, to be more efficient.
“We have good examples of collaboration, expanding those examples is important. Whether it’s UMKC and Mizzou and Missouri State agreeing to come together and we have now the pharmacy program getting ready to get started in Springfield. That kind of collaboration where you don’t have to have a bricks and mortar building, where you’ve already got the professors in line, you’ve already got the courses certified; that kind of academic collaboration is important. I think getting these folks to work together is a big part of what we’re trying to do,” Nixon said.
Finally, Nixon wants the institutions to make an effort at sustainable funding by addressing strategic needs and rewarding better performance.
Nixon says the ultimate goal is to get 60% of Missourians to have a two-year or four-year degree by the year 2025. With a figure around 37% now, does the governor think that’s possible?
“I think it is a very important goal, and I think it’s reachable,” Nixon said, after pausing to think about his response.
He says the importance lies in the effort to reach the goal.
“The challenge we have with this economy right now is we don’t have enough jobs for the people that want those jobs, unemployment is too high. But I think most longer-term thinkers say that the challenges of the future are going to be having the trained workers for the jobs of the future. I don’t mean to go “chicken or egg” on it, but if we don’t get up there it will have a deleterious effect on our economy, a deleterious effect on the opportunities for our state. So it’s incumbent upon all of us to do everything we can to reach that goal, to exceed that goal if we can,” Nixon said.
While being asked to reach these goals, Nixon also acknowledges higher education institutions will be asked to do more with less. State Budget Director Linda Luebbering spoke at the summit, saying that looking at the numbers, the leaders of colleges and universities have a lot of work to do.
“I am guessing, not betting because I don’t bet, but guessing that there will be additional reduction in higher education. SO the question I think for this group, for all of us, is ‘what do we do to help higher education weather those reductions?’ What can we do legislatively? What can we do administratively? What can you do, what can we do, to make it a little bit easier since we know that it’s likely going to continue down for a while,” Luebbering said.
Only a month and a half into the fiscal year, Luebbering estimates the state will have to cut an additional $400 million to $500 million from its overall budget. That number would have been higher if it weren’t for the $209 million going toward Medicaid in the state through the federal jobs bill passed last week.
She doesn’t see much hope for revenue increases in the near future.
“I just, honestly, don’t see this particular legislature interested in approving a tax increase and quite frankly I don’t see the Governor interested in approving a tax increase. In some sense I guess you could say that’s an obstacle, but in my world, it’s a reality. Deal with it and figure out what else we can do,” Luebbering said.
But, she says, the Governor’s four charges are the types of actions that need to be taken. She says long-term solutions are going to be much more effective than something like furloughs, which by design are short-term fixes, and only delay the solution to larger financial issues.