Missouri House committee considers separate proposals on tuition and tenure

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State Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, speaks on the Missouri House floor in March 2017. File photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications | Missourinet.

(Missourinet) – The Missouri House Higher Education Committee heard several bills involving tuition cap increases and the elimination of tenure starting in 2019, during a hearing this week in Jefferson City.

State Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, has a bill that would eliminate the limit on tuition for public colleges and universities that have not received an increase in state funding the previous fiscal year. Normally, institutions cannot raise tuition more than the Consumer Price Index (CPI) percentage. His bill also allows public institutions to raise tuition to the CPI plus 10 percent, even if they have received additional state funding.

“I believe the state’s got vested interest in making sure tuition is affordable but I think we’re at the point where we need to let the colleges and universities make the decision what is affordable in that district,” Davis says.

This proposal comes in the wake of Governor Eric Greitens’ (R) proposed $98 million in budget cuts to higher education this fiscal year. Davis says this would allow these public institutions to accommodate for the lost revenue from state funding.

“This becomes a free-market type of a bill that allows colleges, universities, the board of governors and the presidents to decide what the tuition is going to be,” Davis says. “I hate tying the hands of our board of governors and our presidents of our universities by telling them that they cannot do tuition above CPI especially in years that we withhold tons of money from them.”

Paul Wagner, the executive director of the Council on Public Higher Education in Missouri, testified for the bill during the Higher Education Committee because of the increased flexibility for institutions.

Steven Chaffin, the executive director of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri, spoke for informational purposes, saying although he understands the good intentions of the bill, he’s also worried about the effects of eliminating the cap altogether.

Under a proposal from State Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, public institutions would stop offering tenure to staff hired beginning in 2019. This would save taxpayers money by making it easier to fire professors who are not performing, increase accountability and evaluate educators more efficiently, Brattin says.

“If we’re going to make the real changes to streamline higher education and ensure that they’re receiving the best education possible, we have to be able to look into the staff and people who are working in that system to ensure they’re doing the best job they can,” Brattin says. “But with the system that we currently have, that’s not able to be done with a tenured staff.”

However, this spurred lots of opposition from several committee members and representatives from all over the state from various higher education groups and institutions. Rep. Joe Adams, who was a history professor at St. Louis Community College for over 30 years, says a potential to get tenured is essential when hiring.

“I view this as an attack on the MU system for whatever reason and I am unalterably opposed and if this bill makes it to the floor I will be going ballistic and if I’m lucky enough next year to be on that other side, it definitely is going to be dead on arrival,” Adams tells the committee.

Several committee members also say that although saving money is a good intention, eliminating tenure is not the best way to do so. Tenure is essential for attracting and maintaining high-quality educators and for the UM System to remain in the Association of American Universities.

Representatives from Missouri Western State University, Missouri State University, the Missouri National Education Association and the Missouri American Federation of Labor were opposed but did not have time to testify.