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University of Central Missouri President Chuck Ambrose [2016 file photo].

The following is an op-ed written by Chuck Ambrose, the President of the University of Central Missouri:

State Support for Higher Education an Investment in Missouri’s Economic Future

As Missourians, we all have a stake in our state’s economic success. As such, we should be cognizant of critical factors that contribute to stronger communities which also mean better public schools for our children and services to improve the quality of our lives. While our state faces budget challenges, higher education continues to be an exceptional asset in helping to meet economic as well as social goals, and citizens deserve a strong public policy in support of colleges and universities as an investment in the public good required to drive Missouri’s future forward. Continued reductions in appropriations for higher education are only hindering the opportunity to maximize the potential these institutions provide the state, and most importantly, directly to its people.

Growing jobs and creating an environment that stimulates the economy for all Missouri residents is the goal. Studies show the value of a college degree includes an enhanced lifetime earning potential of $1 million more for graduates versus those without a degree. Additionally, a well-educated workforce is good for local businesses seeking to broaden their consumer base. Amidst a growing need for the state to be more competitive on a global level, we must consider who is going to provide training for a workforce that is well prepared to seek out new markets for home-grown goods and services overseas. Evidence of Missouri’s desire to enter this realm includes a recent bid to bring Amazon’s second headquarters to Kansas City. A globally competitive environment for business requires a globally competitive commitment to higher education, and public higher education institutions are ready to respond.

Some 359,492 students are currently served by post-secondary education throughout the state. Collectively, we must ask ourselves how do we value these students’ place and the impact 27 public and 25 private campuses hold within Missouri’s public policy agenda? If they are important, then the current divestment trend must be reversed.

In order for higher education to achieve its full potential as an economic driver, there must be a stronger commitment to funding Missouri’s colleges and universities to ensure that students are not priced out of the opportunity to earn a degree. Institutions themselves also have a role in exploring and implementing new initiatives to help meet accessibility and affordability goals so that students do not bear the burden of rising educational costs and an escalating college debt load. But higher education institutions can’t do this alone.

During the past two decades, state support for public higher education has decreased dramatically, from 65 percent of Missouri public institutions’ total revenue to about 35 percent currently. Using the University of Central Missouri as an example, the net state appropriation for Fiscal Year 2018 was $52.7 million, considerably below the $57.9 million budgeted net appropriation for FY17. This is almost a $400 decline in funding per student in one year. Unfortunately, maintaining an accessible, affordable education will not get easier as the Missouri governor’s recommendation for FY19 funding dips to the 2004 state appropriations level.

While the decline in state funding presents a financial challenge, at UCM the focus on student success has meant finding ways to keep students from shouldering the impact of these revenue declines. This means keeping tuition below the consumer price index while still maintaining a quality education; an aggressive completion agenda; maximizing opportunities to create public K-12-higher educationbusiness partnerships such as The Missouri Innovation Campus and Innovation Track programs that reduce the time to degree completion and students’ debt; and becoming the first institution to implement the 15-to-Finish Scholarship concept to keep students on track for timely degree completion.

By contributing to a better economy, higher education can help break the cycle of poverty across the state. Meeting this goal also includes serving many first-generation, low-income students who are pioneering the education trail for their families.

Considering the benefits of a higher education, it is hoped that future public policy will recognize the value proposition Missouri colleges and universities represent for the state. Public institutions are positioned to deliver opportunities that will drive local economies, but more state support is needed to ensure costs are not passed onto Missouri families and that access to college and its affordability remain attainable goals.

Dr. Chuck Ambrose, President University of Central Missouri

Not that Eric Greitens (r) particularly cares.