As you are aware, Governor Eric Greitens released his proposed budget for the state of Missouri with recommendations to reduce higher education core funding by approximately 8 percent.
The governor is calling for a total of $68.2 million in cuts from higher education, which, if finalized this legislative session, would amount to as much as $4.6 million in reductions to our core funding, plus other budget withholds that may occur.
While this news is certainly disappointing, please understand that we will continue our work to be the first choice for students in the region. For the last two weeks, I’ve been working and meeting with our legislators individually to tell our story and keep them apprised of all the good work you do to make STLCC a quality institution. I am pleased to report that STLCC enjoys the support of our legislators and they are equally concerned about the proposed budget cuts as well.
St. Louis Community College trains, graduates and provides the workforce for the region and beyond – employers, business leaders and, most importantly, families, understand our importance. As I have informed the media this week, such a reduction to our core would be detrimental to our students and threaten the viability of employers and their ability to find a qualified workforce.
I think it’s important to point out that over the past two years, we laid the groundwork for addressing state budget reductions by deactivating or consolidating programs, reducing administrative and operating costs, and unfortunately, conducting a reduction in force. Although it is too early to tell, such proposed cuts could call for a significant increase in our tuition, which could prohibit some students from attending the College. This is something none of us want to consider, but, as we are already operating as a lean institution, changing our tuition model may be the next step that will need to be taken.
Combined with the news from the governor’s office, I reported in my last newsletter that the Coordinating Board for Higher Education approved six new performance measures for community colleges, and has recommended that the Department of Higher Education withhold 10 percent of our appropriation to apply to the following:
- Three-year completion rate (including transfers)
- Percentage of attempted credit hours successfully completed
- Percentage of career and technical education graduates passing licensure/certification exams
- Non-core expenditures (research, public service and institutional support) compared to total expenditures
- In-district tuition and fees as a percent of in-district median household incomes
- Percentage of total degree/certificate completers employed or continuing their education
Although these measures align with STLCC’s Strategic Plan, and are measures we will continue to strive to meet, the timing of such a withholding could not be worse given the current fiscal situation in the state. For those measures not met, this would initiate a gradual erosion to our core funding. Again, the key message I have taken to our legislators as chancellor of STLCC and as chair of Missouri Community College Association is to protect our core funding, and I will continue to do so going forward this session.
We’ll have a lot on our plate during this legislative session, but I am greatly encouraged by the fact that when I talk about the College, legislators, business, civic, community, K-12 and employer leaders listen. They know that quality is a common thread in everything we do – the courses we offer, the training and career assistance we provide and the student experience in the classroom. They understand the significance of our College and the need for our graduates.
I hear from many of the faculty and staff, and often you ask, what can I do? How can I make my voice heard? It would certainly be helpful for you to reach out to your local legislator by writing a letter or making a phone call and simply ask them to protect our core funding. I would be happy to assist any of you with this idea and would be glad to work with any of you regarding contacting our legislators. I will also keep you informed on news coming out of Jefferson City, the Missouri Community College Association or the Coordinating Board for Higher Education.
We need to keep our tuition stable in order to be the first choice for all students. St. Louis Community College’s affordable tuition and the work we do with our students help keep their debt low: only 14 percent of our students take out loans, which amount to them carrying an average of a little more than $3,900 in debt, whereas nationally at community colleges, 17 percent of students take out loans and carry an average of more than $10,000 in debt. I understand the position the state is in to produce and maintain a balanced budget, but continued cuts to our budget put the burden on our students and their educational pursuits in jeopardy.
At this time, the news from Jefferson City is disheartening, but know that I will work with you and our legislators to find innovative means to serve our students.
Thank you for your continued dedication to the College and our students!
Jeff L. Pittman, Ph.D.