Hayley Vawter | Reporter
Gov. Eric Greitens proposed a severe budget cut to the higher education budget for 2018. This January, Greitens proposed an additional $68 million decrease to higher education funding for 2019.
Currently, the fiscal predictions for the 2019 year are only estimations, but the talk of funding cuts has left many two- and four-year schools in Missouri questioning their spending and budget allocations for the future.
Considering these budget cuts, Dr. Jon Bauer, president of East Central College, discussed how these predictions will affect ECC in the years to come.
“I think that it is important to keep in mind that this is only the beginning of the budget process, not the end,” Dr. Bauer said. “Having said that, we are concerned that the proposed cuts will just make it that much more difficult for us to provide students with what they need.”
He went on to discuss how this will potentially affect students who attend or plan to attend ECC in the future.
“When we talk about budget cuts or cuts to institutions, what we are really talking about are cuts to people,” Dr. Bauer said. “They affect people. They affect students.”
He continued by saying that budget cuts would require ECC to re-evaluate its tuition and fees, but it is too early to determine how much of a reduction the college would see to its annual budget for the future.
“Our goal is to protect the programs and services that we offer to students,” Dr. Bauer said.
According to Dr. Baur, if any changes were to be made to the budget, tuition and fees would probably be the first place that is evaluated.
“We are aware that an increase in tuition would create a barrier for some students, so we would like to find a good balance,” Dr. Bauer said.
The cost per credit hour would most likely increase if ECC sees significant cuts to its funding, but how much it would change is undeterminable this early on.
“Increase in tuition would be on a per-credit-hour basis, and we would also look at our fees and see if any adjustments need to be made there as well,” Dr. Bauer said.
Students who use the A+ program to attend ECC most likely do not have to worry about any changes to their scholarships.
“There is additional money that is being recommended for A+, and that additional money is intended to cover the growth in the program, especially because [A+] is expanding to more private schools,” Dr. Bauer said. “So, as of now, A+ will remain the benefit that it is to qualified students.”
Additionally, clubs and sports would not be directly affected by state aid reductions because they are covered by the student activity fees that all students pay along with tuition.
“We always have to look at our fees and make sure we have sufficient revenue to cover the expenses, so we will evaluate the fees of course, but clubs and sports will not be directly affected through state aid changes,” Dr. Bauer said.
Under the instance of course selection, Dr. Bauer said that course selection is a key area to look at when adjusting budget.
“We always want to make sure the schedule is as efficient as possible,” Dr. Bauer said. “By the same token, we realize students are depending on courses they can complete on time, so it’s another area where there has to be that balance.”
In the future there may not be as many sections for students to choose from when scheduling classes because the low enrollment courses could appear on the course list less frequently. However, the college would be mindful in what decreases or cuts to make in courses based on what students need to complete their degrees.
The staff and faculty at ECC may not have to worry about layoffs amidst the talk of funding reductions. Dr. Bauer stressed greatly that it is too early to determine if ECC would need to evaluate the salary and benefits that staff and faculty of the college receive, but it will be very unlikely to end in a retirement incentive.
“It takes good faculty and staff, and the appropriate number of faculty and staff, to provide quality education for students who attend school here,” Dr. Bauer said.
About the budget side of salary and benefits, he said: “Three-fourths of our budget, on the expenditure side, comes from salary and benefits. So, it is the largest expense in the budget. And it makes sense – we don’t do things like a manufacturer would, we are a service sector, and that service being higher education, so we want to make sure we maintain the appropriate staffing levels that we need to provide that quality education that students expect.”
It is being highly stressed that as of now the budget cuts are just predictions. Greitens is seeing much discourse from not only the democratic lawmakers of Missouri, but also within his own party after the announcement of budget cuts for higher education was made.
In an article published by St. Louis Public Radio titled “Growing Jobs while Cutting Funding for Higher Education…”, it is made clear that President Pro Tempore of the Missouri Senate, Ron Richard, doesn’t agree with Greitens’ propositions: “We’re not going to allow those cuts to happen. The governor can propose a budget, but we’re going to do to what we have to do.”
This comes as a relief to many higher education schools in the state because it is less likely to see such extreme reductions from funding when bipartisan pushback comes into play.