Government Relations

UM Legislative Update Newsletter

October 12, 2005

Interim House Panel meets to discuss higher education funding

The House Interim Committee on Student-Based Higher Education Funding Reform Models met in Columbia on Monday, Oct. 10, to begin the process of reviewing how public funds are distributed to higher education institutions and students. The committee was formed to gather information regarding how the state’s current funding methods might be improved to meet state and student needs. The committee is chaired by Rep. Carl Bearden (R-St. Charles), the sponsor of HB 742 last session that would recast how dollars are distributed to institutions. UM President Elson S. Floyd was among those who testified to the committee.

The committee first heard from Higher Education Commissioner Greg Fitch, who outlined a draft concept of a new matrix for distributing dollars to institutions. After describing the current method used to divide funds, Fitch talked about reframing how institutions request and allocate funds so that lawmakers and the public can see how mandated costs such as employee health benefits and institutional priorities factor into funding decisions. The new approach would provide more accountability and help lawmakers better understand why institutions make funding decisions.

Committee members then heard a brief presentation from President Floyd, who gave a general overview of the recent statewide tuition tour. Floyd said there was a mixed reaction to the tuition concept, but the public clearly wants stability and predictability in tuition decisions. Floyd said institutions have a responsibility to do their part by being efficient and explaining how tuition decisions are made, but that the state also has a responsibility of providing stable funding.

A final presentation came from Dan Peterson, of the Department of Higher Education, who brought the lawmakers up-to-date on recent discussions by the State Financial Aid Task Force. The group has been reviewing all of the state’s financial aid programs and looking for ways to simplify, streamline and improve the programs. Peterson said some “short-term fixes” were going to be presented to the state’s Coordinating Board for Higher Education later this week in Springfield, and that more long-term discussions, including a proposal to combine several need-based financial aid programs into one plan, would be presented later. He said only about 25 percent of students who qualify for state financial aid receive the funds because several of the programs either are not funded or have not been funded at the amount requested. Lawmakers did question Peterson regarding how much state aid goes to various programs, and how much goes to students who attend private schools. Peterson said about half of the state’s financial aid dollars go to students at private institutions, but he would have to get specific data and provide it to the committee.

The next committee meeting will be Thursday, Oct. 20, at Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff. The committee will then meet Nov. 4 at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar before concluding its report with a meeting in Jefferson City Dec. 12.

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