Recently, Gov. Jay Nixon recommended a 7 percent cut in the core budget of the University of Missouri. This cut follows two years of smaller cuts and a generation of comprehensive underfunding.
During the past decade, the Columbia campus has grown by more than 9,000 students — nearly 2,000 more than the entire current student enrollment on the Rolla campus. This year, university funding is lower than in 2001.
One can reasonably argue that our difficult economy means tough times. Although that’s true, it does not excuse a generation of state failure to adequately fund MU or the rest of the state’s higher education institutions.
Several factors are exacerbating our state’s failure. One is the unwillingness of our legislative and executive leadership to allow the people of Missouri to decide for themselves whether they would like to improve our educational system. Raising the state’s tobacco tax to the national average would be one way to help support education.
The next time you hear a politician use the phrase, “and we did it without raising your taxes,” substitute this phrase instead: “and we did it while degrading the quality of Missouri education.” That is the impact of our inaction. The people of Missouri are smart enough to determine for themselves whether they want to relinquish our status as the state with the lowest tobacco tax for an increase in educational funding.
Access to higher education is important. With the increase of 9,000 students — just short of 40 percent — during the past 10 years, no reasonable person can argue that the university has been ignoring the issue of access.
Quality is also important. The failure of the state to fund higher education has had a negative effect on educational quality and ultimately on our state’s economy. The leadership of the university has decided that it can no longer allow the failure in Jefferson City to further erode the quality of the University of Missouri. That is the reason it became necessary to increase tuition. When the university takes it upon itself to do what state leadership has failed to do, politicians should not interfere.
There is an old saying: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Having failed to lead or follow, I implore my fellow politicians to get out of the way.