Last night, Governor Nixon delivered his State of the State address and made public his proposed budget for fiscal year 2012. As you probably know by now, he had good news for public higher education.
Specifically, Governor Nixon has proposed a 7 percent reduction in state appropriations for higher education. For the Missouri State University System, that means a reduction of about $5.9 million in state appropriations. This is significantly lower than the 10-20 percent that had been predicted for some time, and it is less than the $17 million “worst case scenario” we had as our target.
Obviously, the governor’s recommendation is welcome news, and on behalf of the entire campus, I want to thank Governor Nixon and his staff for their hard work to minimize the reduction as much as possible. In the very short time I have been in Missouri, I have been struck by how committed Governor Nixon is to education, and higher education in-particular. He understands that the state’s future depends in great part on the strength of our education system. He has demonstrated that again with this measured reduction in operating budget, as well as his maintaining or increasing funding for the three statewide financial aid programs: the Bright Flight Scholarship, the Access Missouri program, and the A+ program.
The members of the Missouri General Assembly also understand the importance of higher education to Missouri’s future, so I am hopeful they will support the governor’s recommendations. We will know in early May when the state budget is finalized. In the meantime, we will be working with our local delegation and the leadership to provide whatever information would be helpful to them.
Next steps in developing the budget
Now that we have the specific amount that will be recommended, we can begin to be more precise in our work on the budget. Toward that end, tomorrow (Friday, January 21), the Executive Budget Committee will meet to recalibrate both the charge to the various budget committees and the target reduction. Dr. Eric Bosch, who charges the Executive Budget Committee, will report back to campus soon after that meeting, probably early the week of January 24.
I do believe the governor’s recommendation allows us to shift our focus from cutting to reallocating. We have the opportunity to reallocate to support the priorities in the long-range plan and to fund the strategies that will allow our academic programs to elevate over the next several years. The budget committees have the opportunity to generate the best ideas for accomplishing this goal. This is an opportunity that not all institutions have, and we should not let it slip through our fingers.
Approach to tuition increases
Since the governor has done his best to limit the reduction in state appropriations, we need to do our best to hold any tuition increase to a reasonable rate. Affordability and accessibility continue to be priorities at the state level, and we should embrace those goals as well.
Over the coming weeks, we will work closely with our student leaders to determine what tuition rate is fair and appropriate. We will take the fee resolution to the Board of Governors at the April meeting for approval.
Part of the overall process
As I told you from the beginning, the budget process would have ups and downs, and be a “messy process.” I also indicated that if we erred, it would be on the conservative side. In response to requests from the budget committees, we provided a conservative target and worked with ranges and scenarios and options. Like you, I am pleased to have more specifics, and I look forward to working with you to develop our budget plan for Fiscal Year 2012.
Thank you for your understanding, your patience, your involvement, and your good ideas.
James E. Cofer, Sr.