Government Relations

UM Legislative Update Newsletter

February 2, 2007

Dr. Elson S. Floyd, Ph.D.

President, University of Missouri

Testimony before Senate Education Committee on SB389

2 p.m. Wed., Jan. 31, 2007, SCR1
Jefferson City, MO

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, my name is Elson Floyd and I serve as President of the University of Missouri. It is my pleasure to appear before you today to testify in favor of Senate Bill 389.  As you are aware, I will be leaving the University of Missouri to assume the Presidency at Washington State University later this spring.   I have enjoyed working with you over the last four years.

When I arrived in Missouri, higher education had suffered the largest budget cut in our state’s history, and we were far from the top when it came to legislative priorities.  It gives me hope that we have seen higher education become a higher priority for this body, as it is an essential part of our state’s future. Governor Blunt’s  budget announced last week continues to move higher education in the right direction, and today we have the chance to discuss legislation that will move this state forward in a very significant manner.

SB 389 contains four major areas: the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative, Financial Aid, Tuition Stabilization and several items I would put into the category of Higher Education Governance.

Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative

The Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative has been discussed for the past year.  As I said last year at this time and I repeat today, it is crucial to higher education and the people of Missouri that you pass this initiative.  This is a thoughtful, creative plan that will move our state forward when it comes to creating jobs, providing better facilities for our students and faculty, and advancing research that will improve and save lives here in Missouri.

Last week, the Board of Curators for the University of Missouri unanimously passed a resolution clarifying the University’s position on stem cell research related to this Initiative.  I have distributed a copy of the resolution to the committee but would like to read it at this time.

 “…that for any application to the Missouri Development Finance Board to utilize funds under the Lewis & Clark Initiative, the University of Missouri will comply with the requirements of the Missouri Development Finance Board for those funds”.

I want to make it perfectly clear that the resolution says the University will comply with the requirements of the Missouri Development Finance Board.  And it is the full intention and prerogative of the Board of Curators to apply for these funds.

It is important that all of our institutions receive the funds needed to begin – or in several cases complete – capital projects on our campuses. In many cases we have already raised the other funds for construction, so I urge you to act quickly to pass this legislation and adopt the proposed emergency clause so that the dollars can begin to flow to our institutions.

Financial Aid

As you know, the higher education institutions and the State Financial Aid Task Force have been working for more than a year to develop and improve our state’s need-based financial aid offerings. The task force, which represented public and private, two-year and four-year institutions, adopted the proposal to combine the Gallagher and Missouri College Guarantee Programs into a single, streamlined program that is tied to federal financial aid guidelines. It is simple, transparent, and predictable – just what institutions, students, and parents are looking for.  We are very supportive of this new financial aid plan and believe it will have a significant impact on access and the affordability of higher education for Missouri students. 

The proposal also includes an inflation index, which is a component that is missing from many of our state’s financial aid programs.  We hope this index could also be applied to the state’s Bright Flight scholarship, a merit-based program that has not increased in value since it was enacted more than 20 years ago.

This financial aid program is a step in the right direction. Last year, for every dollar the state appropriated for need-based aid, about 65 cents went to students who attend our private institutions.  As this new need-based program is phased in, the percentage of aid that will go to students at private schools will drop from 65 percent to about 55 percent.  But the award levels for private school students in this new program are still up to $4,600 per year – more than twice the maximum amount that can be awarded to students at our University.

At our institution, tuition increase levels over the past 10 years have been near the rate of inflation or below every year with the exception of the difficult budget years of 2003-2005.  Most public colleges have seen similar trends.  In comparison, the major private institutions in this state have announced increases from 5.2 to 8.5 percent next year, which brings tuition into the upper $20,000 to mid $30,000 range.  I believe there needs to be a review of the state’s role in supporting both public and private institutions in Missouri. 

Tuition stabilization

SB389 allows the Commissioner of Higher Education to impose a 5% fine and then requires institutions to seek a waiver from the commissioner should tuition be increased above inflation as defined by the Midwest CPI.   We believe this section of the bill should be consistent with the rest of the bill and provide the commissioner with some discretion regarding implementation of such a policy, with the option to appeal the commissioner’s decision to the coordinating board.  Any tuition plan should reflect a partnership between the state and the institutions, and parameters such as the definition of inflation should reflect the true “market basket of goods” we must purchase – which in our case means a national inflation index or even the Higher Education Price Index.

There are many ideas about how to develop a tuition restraint plan, and we look forward to working with you to explore those ideas and develop the model that best fits our state, our institutions, and our students.

Governance

We have heard that our Coordinating Board for Higher Education lacks teeth and needs better clarification of its role.  This legislation certainly provides a more defined and expanded role for the Board and the commissioner.  Recent conflicts involving some institutions have resulted in a call for the commissioner to be the arbitrator in disputes involving boundaries or jurisdictions, which will help settle such issues in the future.  

We welcome the opportunity to work with the state to develop meaningful performance and accountability measures that help illustrate what we are doing with the investment the state makes in our institutions and show the progress we are making.  

We support the notion that students should know who will teach a course prior to registering. Since students can register up to six months before the course is offered, it would be difficult to list the entire faculty who would teach every course since many teaching assignments are made at a later date. We do know, however, which courses will be taught by faculty and which courses will include graduate teaching assistants, as well as what would be the role of the teaching assistant in the course. We can make this information available to students at the time of registration.

We have already been at work to improve our transfer and articulation agreements with our two-year colleagues and would hope to see our recent efforts in this regard continue under this new legislation.  The University of Missouri already accepts the transfer of freshmen courses listed in this legislation. We would also support the development of common competencies for these courses since it would reaffirm what students need to know to be successful in courses in their majors. It is important to note that the University of Missouri and the other public four-year and two-year institutions are signatories to the 42 hour general education agreement, which assures the transfer of many freshman and sophomore courses.

In conclusion, this legislation represents a pivotal point in the future of higher education in our state.  Our board is supportive of this bill as it moves forward, although there are a few items that we feel would improve the bill, such as providing the commissioner with the flexibility needed to implement many of these ideas.  But we appreciate the fact that you are considering such landmark legislation this year, and we look forward to working with you to see it to completion this session.  Its passage will be a benefit to our students, our parents, our institutions, and indeed all of the citizens of our state.

Thank you for your time, and I would be pleased to answer any questions.

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