Missouri State Capitol

Universities and two-year colleges had reason to rejoice this past week after the state’s higher education budget was backed by legislators in Jefferson City.

Missouri’s House of Representatives included a deal in its perfected budget this week to restore budget cuts to the state’s universities and colleges, meaning institutions like East Central College will not lose any state funding in this year’s budget.

Earlier this year, Gov. Eric Greitens proposed roughly $70 million of cuts to higher education on top of reductions from last year. Cuts resulted in ECC cutting corners where they could and raising tuition per credit hour by $5, across the board.

Those cuts would have amounted to a roughly $450,000 reduction to the college’s budget. Last year, 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.

The news from the Capitol is encouraging, ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer said Thursday, but is just a first step in a long budgetary process.

“It’s good news but we’re not at the end of the process,” Bauer said. “We’re pleased with where things ended up in the House and we’re hopeful the Senate seems to at least looking at higher ed funding the same way the House did.”

The deal would guarantee protection to the college and other higher education institutions’ budgets but also restrict colleges and universities from raising tuition by more than 1 percent. Bauer said, for ECC, that amounts to less than a $1 increase per credit hour.

He said, currently, he doesn’t plan to recommend a tuition raise.

“At this point I’m not recommending a tuition increase assuming that the funding remains as the House has proposed,” Bauer said. “We’ll continue to watch that but that’s essentially the parameters of the agreement.”

Backing from the House was welcomed news to the college and Bauer, who said he was encouraged by the conversations on higher education being had both in the House and the Senate.

“I’ve certainly been encouraged. There have been comments in both chambers in support of higher education and also recognition that in the past years there have been significant cuts that have certainly had an effect,” Bauer said.

Bauer said while the news from the Capitol will certainly make for an easier budgetary year, but noted that he is weary of midyear withholdings. He said cuts during the budgetary year often are harder to deal with.

“That’s always a possibility and it’s something we’re concerned about,” Bauer said. “What’s most important is what you actually receive and withholdings that occur midyear are difficult because you have expenses that already have occurred.

The state’s annual budget is scheduled to take effect July 1. Bauer said he will be working in the Capitol to plead ECC’s case and fight the budget cuts proposed by the governor.