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Missouri Public Colleges Get More Freedom To Hike Tuition Under House Bill

Architectural columns and Jesse Hall on the campus of University of Missouri.
Adam Procter
Architectural columns and Jesse Hall on the campus of University of Missouri.

The bill to allow unrestricted tuition increases now goes to the Missouri Senate after House lawmakers passed it Tuesday.

Missouri public colleges will be able to hike tuition rates without any restrictions set previously by the state under a proposal the state House passed Tuesday.

Colleges have faced declining state funding for decades. Supporters argued this measure would allow colleges the flexibility to increase tuition costs with the understanding that an exorbitant price would lead students to flock to another university. The bill would need approval from the Senate, and if it’s passed the tuition hikes wouldn’t start until July 2022.

Opponents, like Rep. Donna Baringer, D-St. Louis, raised concerns that lifting the tuition cap would allow universities to charge more.

“We are shifting the cost of higher education in the state of Missouri over to students or the parents,” Baringer said.

For years, state public colleges could only raise tuition by the consumer price index. In 2018, lawmakers tweaked the law to allow colleges to raise tuition if the state cut higher education funding, although the tuition increase was capped.

It’s unclear to what extent this proposal would drive up tuition costs. A spokesman for the University of Missouri System said it doesn’t comment on pending legislation. A fiscalimpact note for the bill states the UM System would likely see “a positive financial impact.”

“The future pricing would still be subject to what the market would allow but provides for price adjustment for the degrees that are more costly to deliver and provide higher wages to their graduates,” the note states. It’s based on information from UM System officials.

The executive director of the Council on Public Higher Education, which lobbies on behalf of nine public universities but doesn’t include the UM System, estimates a “pretty moderate effect.”

“I think for the vast majority of my institutions, we're not going to be seeing tuition increases going much higher than they otherwise would have,” said council head Paul Wagner.

Truman State University, Missouri State University and Harris-Stowe State University are among the council member schools.

Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, said lawmakers can put the tuition cap back in place if colleges drastically increase their prices.

“If down the road, we see some universities doing some things they shouldn't be doing, we can always slap them down with something else,” Richey said on the House floor.

The tuition cap was among a number of proposals tacked onto the original bill. The measure also gives every Missouri child born after Jan. 1, 2021, a savings account for higher education expenses. The state deposits $100 into the account.

Another section of the bill requires the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development to compile a list of jobs that are in high demand, along with the education level needed to land the job. The department would also have to publish average monthly student loan payments and starting salaries for students at each public college.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman is a reporter for KCUR 89.3.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
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