East Central College (ECC) President Dr. Jon Bauer presented the case for Missouri’s community colleges in an attempt to shield the state’s junior colleges from any further budget cuts.
“We hope you will consider the role that community colleges play in improving the lives of thousands of Missourians and building a workforce to support our employers,” said Bauer, who testified in front of the House of Representatives and Senate Appropriations committees in Jefferson City Jan. 20 and 22.
Bauer’s testimony came after Gov. Eric Greitens cut more than $146 million in spending from Missouri’s budget. Nearly $68 million of those cuts were from funding to public universities and community colleges, like ECC.
Greitens is expected to announce his budget plan for the state this week, which seeks to attempt to combat Missouri’s ongoing tax revenue deficit.
Bauer, who serves as the Missouri Community College Association’s chairman, told the committees while he understands the budget situation is difficult, the state’s backing of community colleges is an investment into Missouri’s future that must be protected. Several other higher ed representatives also spoke.
“Investing in community colleges truly is investing in our state’s workforce,” said Bauer. “In fact, 98 percent of our students are Missourians, and 93 percent will stay here after they graduate.”
Budget Cuts Hitting Home
The projected cut would result in the loss of one month of core state aid, or about $434,983, for ECC, Bauer said.
The loss means the college will need to rethink its annual budget. When the cuts were announced, Bauer said the college expected withholdings, but did not know how ECC would be directly affected.
Bauer said ECC already had planned to raise its tuition, a decision that was made in October 2016. The college’s tuition will raise by $4 for in-district students, $6 for out-of-district students and $8 for out-of-state students in the 2017-2018 academic year.
ECC is looking to other areas to save as well. Bauer said while the school always budgets in a contingency fund for issues like state cuts, he has asked each ECC administrator to review their budget and reduce expenses.
He said spending has been reduced to only what is fundamental to the college. He added that any open positions before the end of the fiscal year would be scrutinized and possibly left unfilled.
“We don’t know what to expect, we’re certainly aware of the challenges,” Bauer told The Missourian. “It’s possible, yes, that there are more cuts from where we are. I’m worried about that, and if there are cuts, how deep will they go?”
All-in-all, the cuts to community colleges currently total out at roughly $12 million. According to Missouri’s 2017 budget, community colleges were allocated nearly $145 million of the budget, while the state’s four-year institutions were awarded roughly $776 million.
Bauer said community colleges educate roughly 40 percent of the state’s students, but only receive 15 percent of the state’s higher education funds. He said investing further in Missouri’s community college will help develop the state’s workforce.
Bauer said the state committee should keep Missouri’s commitments to students in mind when looking at the budget. He said core funding for higher education is vital, and that it’s important to provide adequate funding to every higher education institution in the state.
He asked the committee to help develop Missouri’s workforce by supporting community colleges and their workforce training programs. He also asked the officials to stay true to the state’s commitment to the the A+ program.
“This state made a promise to our students — go to class, get good grades, serve your community and you’ll earn a scholarship at a community college,” Bauer said. “We owe it to them to keep our word by maintaining the A+ program’s funding.”
The A+ program allows students to work toward certain requirements to earn scholarships to public community colleges, vocational schools and certain private two-year vocational and technical schools.
Bauer closed his testimony by asking the committee to keep students in mind when making further budget cuts. He said community colleges are the bedrock of Missouri’s workforce.
“I don’t envy the job ahead of you. I do know, though, that if you are looking for a solid investment — a place where people’s lives are changed, their families’ lives are improved and where the bedrock of Missouri’s workforce is trained — it’s at our community colleges,” he said.