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Cost Of College In Missouri Not As Low As Some Would Have You Think

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Missouri has been crowing about how the state has kept down tuition increases for undergraduate, in-state students. In April, Gov. Jay Nixon came to UMKC to sign a budget that he said keeps college affordable in Missouri and "within reach for more families."

Turns out, college costs in Missouri are more expensive than advertised, according to a report released Tuesday by  Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway.

In 2007, the General Assembly passed legislation that capped tuition hikes at the rate of inflation for undergraduate, in-state students. 

So far, so good, but Galloway says the law did not cover fees. “Supplemental fees that are not tracked as part of the law have increased about 138 percent from 2009 to 2015.”

Combine that 138 percent hike in fees with a decrease in state support over the past five years and Galloway says that's costing Missouri families an additional $1,500 per year in for college. “The money is eventually going to come from somewhere and right now it is coming from families and students who are trying to make their way through college,” says Galloway. Supplemental fees at all public universities and colleges in Missouri jumped from a total of $29.5 million in 2009 to $70.3 million in 2015.

The Missouri Department of Higher Education (MDHE) responded in the Auditor's report. The department stressed that fees "are for specific courses that have demonstrably higher costs" and that the auditor "does not substantiate the claim that institutions are adding supplemental fees as a way to generate additional revenue."

The University of Missouri System agreed with that response but added in a statement that "study abroad fees; tuition and fees for internet courses; fees approved by a vote of the student body through student-initiated referenda" are all fees not covered by state law.

Galloway stresses in her report that in-state tuition in Missouri is a bargain compared with the rest of the nation. "National data shows in-state undergraduate tuition at Missouri's public 4-year institutions have had the lowest rate of increase of any state in the nation since 2008," the report says.

In fact, Missouri was able to freeze undergraduate, in-state tuition for this school year while Kansas was forced to hike in-state tuition between 4.9 percent and 6 percent this year because of budget cuts imposed by Gov. Sam Brownback. 

State support for higher education per student has dropped from $7,778 in 2009 to $6,332 last year. To make up that loss in state aid, according to the auditor's report, Missouri colleges and universities have stepped up their recruitment of international students whose tuition is uncapped by state law. 

“They do recruit out of state and international students that are not affected by the cap in tuition to help supplement some of their revenues,” says Galloway. University of Missouri System data quoted in the report shows the number of international students soared by 120 percent in the past seven years.

In Kansas, Board of Regent data shows a 19 percent increase in international students at the six universities.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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