Missouri ranks toward the bottom in state funding for its colleges and universities. When state budget shaping time rolls around each year, funding Missouri higher education tends to be a struggle between some lawmakers and school leaders.
During an education budget subcommittee hearing, State Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development Commissioner Zora Mulligan says the funding levels have been an ongoing struggle. She says they impact the ability of institutions to be effective and competitive.
“In terms of competing for students, that’s something that I often hear from the Budget Committee, you know ‘Why is Arkansas beating us in this game, competing for faculty and staff?’ We can’t pay as well as other states can when they have higher levels of support,” says Mulligan.
An organization at Illinois State University, called Grapevine, compiles an annual report about state tax support for higher education. It ranked Missouri 46th in the nation last year for spending about $163 per person in state funding.
State Representative Allen Andrews, R-Grant City, says he has had a growing concern about the struggles that Missouri colleges and universities have faced over the years.
“I have a lot of concern for the tremendous amount of deferred maintenance we need catch up on for our brick and mortar institutions,” says Andrews. “I have a concern of how they are going to be able to compete with a lot of the onlines out there and how they are going to continue to fight for their relevancy in the marketplace as education and how we obtain education continues to change.”
Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development Deputy Commissioner Leroy Wade says competition will continue to increase and institutions must find niches to maintain enrollment.
“I think the demand is still going to be out there,” says Wade. “The question is which institutions are going to make the right decisions and be able to serve those changing populations.”
He says Missouri has been experiencing a decline in the student population consisting of those of the traditional college age group, but Wade expects an increase in older students.
The department’s website says Missouri’s higher education system is comprised of 13 public four-year universities, 14 public two-year colleges, 24 independent colleges, 11 specialized/technical colleges, 17 theological institutions and more than 150 proprietary and private career schools.
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