JEFFERSON CITY - Presidents of Missouri's universities fielded questions on how their respective schools would cope with the proposed higher education budget reduction.
The House Education Appropriations Committee heard testimony Wednesday about the financial state of Missouri's universities. Some university presidents said the governor's proposed 7 percent higher education budget would put a strain on their budgets.
Missouri Western University President, Robert Vartabedian, said "the cuts present a significant challenge."
Other institutions testified that they had braced for the budget reductions and the proposed cuts will not create a substantial problem.
"We have been preparing for this for the past two years," said Paul Kincaid, Missouri State University chief of staff.
Lawmakers submitted questions to the universities prior to the hearing. University presidents were asked what measures they were taking to reduce their operating budgets and how they would be affected by a budget cut of up to 15 percent.
All of the universities who testified will be increasing tuition for the upcoming academic year. Keeping tuition low, however, is not the only function of state funds.
The University of Missouri System was vocal about the need for state funds especially to retain faculty and continue to increase research.
Steve Owens, the interim president of the UM System, said UM's low faculty salaries and increased faculty mobility across the nation will cause a decrease in education quality.
"Our best and brightest might be moving on," Owens said.
Owens also pointed out that the UM System has conducted $371 million in research using funding from outside their appropriations. He said this same research benefits the economic development of Missouri.
Although many lawmakers acknowledged that the proposed budget cuts would be necessary, but Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, said she thinks there are other options
"There are many avenues for raising revenue and a cigarette tax would be one of the easiest," Still said.
Still said that she believes the state's first priority is education and increasing the general revenue could mean less cuts for higher education.
Representatives of Missouri's universities said they have taken steps to reduce their budgets. A spokesperson for Missouri Southern State University said that they have less administrators now than they did 12 years ago when enrollment was higher.
Other institutions have put building repairs and projects on hold. Carolyn Mahoney, Lincoln University President, said that a 7 percent budget cut would cause facility maintenance to take a back seat.
Owens said the UM System has been able to do "more with less" with declining appropriations from the state.
A primary source of budget reduction for the universities has been the cut of academic degree programs. The UM System alone has cut over 35 degree programs.
Scholarship programs have also taken a hit. Lincoln University has cut their scholarship budget by 19 percent according to Mahoney.
Despite efforts to reduce operating budgets, the UM System is raising their tuition 5.5 percent to an average of $8400 per student (not including room and board). Missouri's other public universities are facing the same fate.