At the beginning of the summer—right when tuition increases were announced—we wrote about the decline in college affordability and some of the measures we were considering to change it. For the most part, the challenges we wrote about haven’t let up. After significant funding cuts were imposed by the state in May, Governor Greitens announced that he would withhold another $24 million from higher education. The future of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is increasingly in doubt, only a month before the first cohort of 500,000+ public servants prepare to have their loans forgiven.
But there has been some good news, too. The University of Missouri System is taking its commitment to open educational resources—free textbooks—seriously. President Mun Choi has been setting aggressive goals behind the scenes to get introductory-level courses covered by next fall, which would cut down education costs for students considerably. Furthermore, just this month the Columbia campus announced its Missouri Land Grant Compact, which promises to cover tuition for all Pell-eligible students who enroll at Mizzou, and even more for those of them who qualify for the Honor’s College. Both are significant steps forward for college affordability in Missouri.
Our hope is to continue to fight on the issues where progress has stalled, and to support efforts already underway. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ll be doing to bring down costs:
- Push for increased funding for higher education. The current budgetary outlook makes this unlikely. In fact, this may be the beginning of a new normal. But if we don’t continue to argue the benefits of higher education not only for individuals but for society at-large, the worst of outcomes is assured. In the same vein, we will also be asking for an increase in funding to the Access Missouri Scholarship Program in the amount of $5 million.
- Enact legislation to provide relief to students in debt. We’ve said it before: This isn’t about free college. It’s about setting students up for success when they graduate from university. Rising student debt has had serious adverse effects on the student population, including mental health issues and delayed life choices, and there are bills being considered in Jefferson City that can alleviate this problem:
- The Student Debt Relief Act would make it easier for students and their families to refinance their debt at lower interest rates and to consolidate their debt.
- The Student Loan Bill of Rights would implement a number of policies designed to make the student loan market more transparent and less predatory. This would include creating the Office of the Student Loan Ombudsman, the creation of a student loan borrower education course, and requiring student loan servicers to be licensed by the state.
- Create a Statewide Work Study Program. With the cost-of-attendance at our universities increasing, it is more important than ever that students have at their disposal the means to pay for their education. Work study is one such option that allows students to earn income while earning college credit, primarily with the aims of paying living expenses so that students can focus more on their studies. In this respect, an expanded statewide work study program works best in conjunction with additional student borrower protections—statewide work study programs are not intended and are largely unable to pay for things like tuition.
- Oppose “textbook taxes.” Last year, legislation was filed that would have removed any existing exemption for textbooks under the sales tax. ASUM quickly alerted allied lawmakers to this provision, and it was summarily removed. We will continue to watch for such efforts and move quickly to have them taken out.
- Support the UM System Open Educational Resources Initiative. One vital component of enacting any major program at a flagship public institution is maintaining a working relationship with the legislature. We hope to work with President Choi, as appropriate, to keep lawmakers informed about the progress of OER on our campuses and to encourage a statewide move toward free textbooks.
- Oppose legislation that attempts to “preempt” Open Educational Resources. Since OER has become more widely adopted, the publishing lobby–which stands to lose a great deal from a free textbook model–has begun pushing legislation in state legislatures around the country calling for the adoption of an “affordable textbook” program. While this looks good on the surface, it is ultimately an attempt by publishers to preempt efforts to make textbooks free altogether, and instead adopt a model by which universities provide “auto access” resources–i.e., resources automatically charged to students’ accounts and available online, only for the duration of the semester. While auto access can reduce costs for students in many cases because of economies of scale, we oppose efforts to use this as a mechanism to prevent the adoption of OER.