With the state legislature enacting massive budget cuts to higher education during the recently concluded 2017 regular legislative session—cuts that will go into effect this July—we recognize the administration’s difficult position. But make no doubt about it, the decline in state funding for higher education and the corresponding tuition hikes mean one thing: a decrease in college affordability.
Our organization has always worked to keep college affordable, but the stakes have never been higher. This year, we successfully pushed back on efforts to impose the sales tax on college textbooks, a backwards move that would undermine students already struggling to pay for costly college textbooks. We’re already working on an ever-expanding issues platform to help push back against state and federal efforts to make it more difficult to access higher education. Here are some highlights of what we’re working on:
- Pushing for more funding from the state. This is something we do each year, but we recognize our strategy has gotten stale. Instead of pushing the same old talking points, we need to bring more students to Jefferson City to speak directly to the impact of rising costs on their education.
- Fully funding statewide scholarship programs. Scholarship programs, which can offset the costs of rising tuition for qualified students, are often underfunded. We’re collecting information on the long-term funding trends for a variety of scholarship programs to see which ones are most in need of additional support.
- Taking on student loan issues. With student debt already massive and on the rise, declining state funding and anticipated actions by the Trump administration—such as the proposed elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program—could exacerbate these issues. We need to find ways to safeguard against these changes in statute. Here are some ways we can do this:
- Establish a student loan borrower’s ‘Bill of Rights’
- Create the position of a Student Loan Ombudsman to investigate complaints
- Provide a path for students to refinance their student loans at lower rates & consolidate their debt
- Supporting efforts to create a Statewide Work Study Program. Representative Kip Kendrick (D-Columbia), sponsored a bill his year that would create a state-level version of the federal work study program. This is prescient given the possibility of severe cuts to this program on the federal level.
- Eliminate, or reduce, the cost of college textbooks. UM System President Mun Y. Choi has been a vocal proponent of Open Access / Open Educational Resources, which could pave the way for free—or nearly free—textbooks for students. In fact, if Open Access were implemented today, it would offset the increase in cost associated with the tuition hike.
- Ensure a public discussion concerning tuition caps. Decline in state funding has led to serious discussions surrounding tuition caps. Currently, institutions of higher education in Missouri are not authorized to raise tuition for in-state students above the rate of inflation. If this were to change, it would help university’s maintain the quality of existing programs. However, we know the negative impact it would have on affordability. As these discussions unfold over the next several months, we are committed to ensuring this information is openly accessible to student input.
This is very much a work in progress, but we will continue sharing our progress along the way. As budget cuts go into effect over the course of the summer months and into the fall, we also encourage you to let us know what concerns you have using this easy-to-use Google Form. You can also share your questions and concerns with us on Twitter @UM_ASUM using the hashtag #umbudgetcuts.