State Funding Questions Prompt College Tuition Increase, Worries about Student Grants
St. Charles Community College is raising its tuition for the second time in two years.
Uncertainty about Missouri’s funding for higher education has prompted one local public institution to raise its tuition rate and another to worry about financial aid for some students.
The St. Charles Community College (SCC) will be raising its tuition rate by $5 per credit hour, starting with summer semester beginning in June. The college’s credit hour rate for resident students will jump to $90 per credit hour from $85 this school year.
Out-of-district students who live in Missouri pay 50 percent more in credit hour rates than in-district students. Out-of-state and international students pay 50 percent more than out-of-district students.
SCC’s Board of Trustees approved the rate increase at their March 19 meeting. The rate increase was prompted by possible cuts in state aid to higher education this year.
The Missouri General Assembly is currently debating possible cuts after Gov. Jay Nixon proposed cutting public higher education funding by 12.5 percent in January.
But a Missouri House panel approved a $24 billion state budget on March 22 that maintains state funding for higher education at the same level as last year. Senate Appropriation hearings on the budget are expected to begin on April 2.
SCC officials said they remain worried about a possible 7.7 percent cut in their state funding. They will continue to keep an eye on the closing days of the session.
“We're on our toes because at any point things could change," said Ronald Chesbrough, president of SCC.
SCC’s state funding could be cut by 20 percent in the last three years – from about $8 million in fiscal year 2009-10 to an anticipated $6.5 million for fiscal year 2012-13.
“With the $5 per credit hour increase, we will remain one of the most affordable higher education institutions in the state of Missouri in what is a relatively affluent county compared to where some of the others are located,” Chesbrough said.
SCC has held the line on tuition increases since 2008 until last year. “We’ve gone up $10 per credit hour in six years, that’s probably doesn’t keep pace with cost of living increases,” he said.
Chesbrough said, however, that the college wants a college education to remain affordable. So SCC has begun to focus cutting costs -- ranging from looking at insurance rates to not cutting and watering the grass on campus as much.
But another focus will be on long-range strategic planning to long at how the college is servicing the community and what it can afford to offer, Chesbrough said.
“How do you plan during a challenging economic time,” he said. “My response is really it’s the only choice.”
Chesbrough said typically it’s rare to see public funding restored to previous levels even if the economy recovers.
SCC’s stable enrollment of about 8,200 students, may give it a “breather” in planning for its future and improving its finances, he said.
Enrollment may level off in the next several years because the size of local high school classes. As the economy improves, some students may again opt to go to other schools, Chesbrough said.
Uncertain state funding also means that the college is stepping up its fundraising efforts and grant writing.
Chesbrough said the college’s foundation has been effective “around the edges” and in “filling in the blanks” in providing money for scholarships and equipment that the college couldn’t afford. It may have to look toward establishing an endowment. State, federal and workforce development grants also will have to be pursued, he said.
One area the college is not pursuing now is a tax increase. State funding and tuition are two of the college's three major revenue sources. The other is property taxes.
Voters have never approved a tax increase for the college. SCC's total property tax rate of 21.96 cents per $100 assessed valuation has provided more income because St. Charles County's assessed valuation rose with booming residential development.
But assessed valuation has dropped with the recession. “It’s not a good time to do that, given the economy,” Chesbrough said.
Class offerings and financial aid appear to be stable, he said. The state’s A-plus funding program that allows high school students to attend school at little cost remains strong, Chesbrough said.
Chesbrough said the college is looking at its allied health program that train health care workers. SCC is looking at partnerships with four-year colleges, including the University of Missouri that would be funded by grants.
Meanwhile, Lindenwood University, a private institution, isn’t affected directly by cuts in state funding. But state funding does affect some scholarship funding that is available for students at public and private schools.
Joseph Parisi, dean of day admissions at Lindenwood, said further cuts in the Access Missouri grant amounts will have an affect on Lindenwood students. The grant program for undergraduates provides students in private colleges as much as $2,000 annually.
But Parisi said the amount per student remains uncertain and any cuts in grant amounts can hurt a family’s ability to afford higher education.