Responding to College-Cost Audit, Nixon Touts Affordability

JEFFERSON CITY (AP/KMOX) — Gov. Jay Nixon is doubling down on his stance that Missouri is a “national leader in college affordability” in response to a recent state audit that found in-state and out-of-state students are bearing more of the costs at public universities and colleges.

Since fiscal year 2009, state funding per full-time student dropped 19 percent, according to a report released last week by Auditor Nicole Galloway. Lawmakers kept schools from raising tuition more than the consumer price index starting in the 2008 school year, the report said, so over the course of six years, the state’s four-year colleges upped supplemental course and degree fees to raise money by 112 percent per full-time student in-state and out-of-state and net tuition and required fees went up 25 percent for all students as well.

Galloway’s audit does confirm Nixon’s repeated assertion: Missouri has had the lowest public-university tuition increases in the U.S. since 2008. But in-state undergraduate tuition is only one metric to gauge college affordability. Missouri ranked 39th in the nation for state appropriations per full-time student in fiscal years 2008 through 2014, and was 43rd nationally in the 2014-2015 school year for state funding per $1,000 in personal income.

Nixon told The Associated Press it is “indisputable” that state spending on higher education is at record levels, noting scholarship increases and a $200 million bonding package for capital improvements that helped boost funding by 3.9 percent between fiscal years 2009 and 2015.

“You can get into these numbers and it can get kind of gnarly, but the bottom line is, I have made costs and quality dual pillars,” Nixon said. “We’ve kept costs down; this audit shows that.”

He’s also successfully brokered deals with public universities four times to keep freeze tuition since he took office in 2009.

“I appreciate the auditor highlighting Missouri’s success in being a national leader in college affordability,” Nixon told the AP, adding, “that’s been something I’ve worked on, and (the audit) is an important acknowledgment of that success.”

Galloway, a fellow Democrat, has said per-student spending better reflects the level of state support amid growing enrollment. And Republican Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, who’s been second-in-command of the House budget committee and will lead the committee starting in January, also said it’s “indisputable that we are having record funding for higher education.”

But he noted added funding might not be enough to keep up with rising enrollment, which went up 12 percent since fiscal year 2009.

Nixon also has made public claims and repeated to AP that an “emphasis on affordability has resulted in a 36 percent increase in the number of Missouri students.”

When asked for details to verify that assertion, Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said college affordability for Missouri families “has been a priority for this administration” and cited programs such as Nixon’s innovation campus initiative, which partners businesses with colleges to help students graduate more quickly.

Holste also said in an email that some studies have shown a correlation between tuition increases and enrollment.

“I do think you would actually have a hard time finding someone who would say there wasn’t a correlation between the cost of college and students enrolling and then staying in school to get a degree,” Holste said in an email.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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