State Budget Cuts Hit Universities

Feb 25, 2017
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States across the country face tight budgets, and of course that could mean painful cuts for public services. It could also mean cuts for publicly funded colleges and universities. St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum reports on why higher education is so often the target of the budget axe.

JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: Eric Greitens had barely been Missouri's governor for a week when he faced a wrenching decision cutting the Show-Me State's budget. The state didn't get as much revenue as expected, leading the Republican governor to cut $68 million to state universities and community colleges for the current budget year. And when Greitens proposed his 2018 fiscal year budget, it included further reductions for higher education. He told reporters that the move was necessary to balance the budget.

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ERIC GREITENS: Universities, college professors, administrators are going to get less money than the politicians had promised them in the past. And that is one of the places where we're going to have to ask them to tighten their belts so that we can fund our priorities.

ROSENBAUM: Greitens isn't the only governor dealing with budget woes this way. Iowa, New Mexico and Louisiana have also had to cut money to higher education in the past few months. Most states don't have a dedicated source of funding for their colleges and universities, which means they often take a hit during bad budget years. Missouri's Republican House budget chairman, Scott Fitzpatrick, says Greitens didn't have many options of what to cut for the current budget year. Missouri's Constitution requires a statewide vote for most tax increases.

SCOTT FITZPATRICK: But if I was doing it, I would have probably done it the same way he did it as far as where do I target the majority of the cuts. I mean, it's a difficult decision, but I think he probably made the right one.

ROSENBAUM: Even if Greitens' decisions weren't surprising, that hasn't reduced the anxiety of places like Harris-Stowe University in St. Louis. The historically black university is facing more than a $900,000 cut in next year's budget, which amounts to nearly 10 percent of the state funds it receives. As students chatted with each other and hurriedly walked to class, Harris-Stowe President Dwaun Warmack says the cuts could lead to some tough decisions.

DWAUN WARMACK: You know, we've prided ourself on keeping our tuition low and showing that we're not putting it on the backs of the students and the residents here. But with these type of cuts, at the end of day to survive, all of our institutions to be successful, we may have to look at tuition increase. And that's unfortunate.

ROSENBAUM: Taevin Lewis is Harris-Stowe's student body president. She's a junior who's majoring in biology and says many of her classmates have scholarships and would be OK if tuition goes up. But Lewis says she senses dread and uncertainty when she talks to students at other Missouri colleges.

TAEVIN LEWIS: You've kind of got us millennials shaken up a bit because we're a little worried about the future of our academic career.

ROSENBAUM: It should be noted that Greitens' budget proposal is just that - a proposal. Missouri lawmakers could make changes to it over the next few months.

For NPR News, I'm Jason Rosenbaum in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.