East Central College is bracing for another year of state budget reductions after reports that Gov. Eric Greitens hopes to cut $300 million from the state coffers.
Greitens, while currently embattled with scandal, is expected to release the budget Monday, Jan. 22.
The Post-Dispatch reported that an email sent in early January hinted at more “belt-tightening,” in the upcoming annual budget. In the email, Chief Operating Officer Drew Erdmann warned agencies running higher education, the department of corrections and others to prepare for $300 million in cuts this fiscal year due to slow state revenue growth.
“And we will continue to face these pressures in the years ahead. This is our new normal,” Erdmann wrote in the email, published by The Missouri Times.
East Central College President Dr. Jon Bauer said those possible cuts and the possibility of more each year are a growing concern for the college.
“We had the expectation that it was going to be a difficult budget year, but at the same time we’ve already been through cutbacks and reductions, so it’s becoming increasingly difficult to meet that (challenge).”
In Greitens’ first month in office, he made a $251 million cut to the state budget, $24 million of which came from the state’s higher education budget. Nine percent of ECC’s budget went with the cuts, reducing the college’s state aid by roughly $450,000.
Due to those cuts, the college made several cutbacks in its budget and raised its tuition by $5 per credit hour across the board to avoid a deficit. Providing quality education to students seeking it is becoming increasingly difficult as state aid dwindles, Bauer said.
The college also has spent the last year targeting new students through dual enrollment opportunities and new online classes, giving the college a slight boost to its enrollment. But the college doesn’t expect for the number of dual enrollment students, a major part of that boost, to rise sharply again.
Bauer said, while ECC is always concerned about budgetary cutbacks, a deeper concern he has is the effect those cuts may have on the economy of the state. He said without the support of the state higher education will have an increasingly difficult time boosting and improving Missouri’s workforce.
“We’re always concerned about where the state budget is going to be and what the impact is going to be for higher education,” Bauer said. “But our feeling is that the state’s investment into higher education is critical and, frankly, key to the economic well-being of the state.”
Without the educational opportunities for future and current students in the workforce, Bauer worries that the state’s economic growth will continue to stall.
“What we need is a robust economy and economic growth, and I feel that higher education is key to that,” Bauer said. “When we have fewer resources to do our job, that makes it that much more challenging.”
During Missouri’s 2017 legislative session, Bauer and several other college and university leaders spent time working with the state Legislature to lower the reductions to the higher education budget. He said he plans to work in the Capitol this year as well.
“In the end, we talk about funding institutions, what that really means if providing resources so our students have the best quality of education possible,” Bauer said. “I’m hoping, through this budget process, that we can come through with the resources needed to do our job.”