The University of Missouri’s enrollment continues to grow, but sustaining the increase might not last if state funding doesn’t match the growth.
“We know it’s a mixed blessing,” Chancellor Brady J. Deaton said at the Nov. 16 fall semester General Faculty Meeting. “We’re addressing the needs of a growing group of students, but it’s also presenting enormous challenges to us, given the funding situation we’re in.”
Tim Rooney, budget director at MU, said various economic factors have contributed to the difficulties in funding student scholarships. One statewide scholarship, Access Missouri, could face a significant cut that would affect MU recipients.
“There is the possibility that 50 percent of that need-based funding could be eliminated,” Rooney said. “For MU, that would be $2.5 million that our students may not see.”
For faculty and staff, Rooney said the university plans to increase salaries on a guideline of 3 percent, but this would be difficult if the state holds tuition increases to the Consumer Price Index and cuts funding to MU by 5 percent. If the appropriation remains flat, the university could address the salary increases with fewer problems, Rooney said. The cost of benefits, unfortunately, is also scheduled to increase two percentage points; from 31.87 percent of salary to 33.87 percent of salary, inclusive of Social Security.
Nikki Krawitz, UM System vice president for finance and administration, updated meeting attendees on the provisions of performance-based funding, a state initiative that caused controversy at a Faculty Council meeting in November.
“Performance funding is a national movement,” Krawitz said. “It’s not just happening in Missouri. A number of states have had it for a number of years.”
She also said Missouri has relied on performance-based funding in the past.
Krawitz explained that the funding plan strives to provide more Missourians with post-secondary degrees. But some faculty members said they thought the plan ignores MU’s goals as a graduate and research institution.
Frank Schimdt, professor of biochemistry, said, “There is no field-specific measure [in the plan], which is a little surprising given that the governor of Florida has been a big mover of this and has famously said we need more engineers and fewer anthropologists.” He added in jest, “I think we need the anthropologists to study the engineers.”
Under the proposed plan, MU would pick four measures from a list of six with at least one coming from three categories: Student Progress, Degree Attainment and Quality of Learning. In addition, each university would choose a fifth measure that relates to its individual mission. Because MU is the state’s largest research university, Krawitz said it might opt for Research Funding as the fifth measure.
Performance-based funding would not pit institutions against each other, Krawitz said, but instead would allow each institution to compete only with itself.
Krawitz is concerned about some of the performance-based assessment measures, specifically the three-year rolling average that intends to track a university’s progress.
“What worries me is that you can see natural variation,” Krawitz said. “You have to decide on what constitutes sustaining performance versus improving performance and where it’s important to reward sustaining performance and improving performance.”
Depending on the size of the numbers, a small change in a denominator or numerator could significantly affect the results and misrepresent the performance of an institution. The Missouri Council on Public Higher Education (COPHE) is still looking for ways to improve monitoring the progress of institutions.
Additional measures could be added to the existing six, and other changes could occur before COPHE presents its final recommendations to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education in December. If the measures are approved by the institutions and the coordinating board, Krawitz said the Missouri General Assembly would most likely agree with the measures in the plan. The appropriations passed by the legislature and signed by the governor would determine the fate of performance-based funding.
“There are competing needs,” Krawitz said. “If the state has additional revenue, will they spend it on higher education?”
At the meeting, Deaton also discussed athletic conference realignment. The Nov. 6 announcement of Mizzou’s move to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) garnered more attention than Deaton had anticipated, but he said he feels leaving the Big 12 was the best fit for the university.
“We did not feel we could responsibly stay where we were,” Deaton said.
Rather than focus on athletics, Deaton provided faculty with information on how the MU can collaborate with SEC schools to pool conference resources for enhanced academic programs.
According to National Science Foundation data, MU ranks second in the Big 12 in the amount of federal dollars it has received for research projects. The University of Texas leads the conference.
As the SEC academic powerhouse, Vanderbilt leads in overall federal research funding. MU will rank seventh.
“There is much more strength in research among the institutions in the SEC overall than in the Big 12, which was something that actually surprised a lot of people when they looked at this data,” Deaton said.
Curbing alcohol use
Concerned about student drinking, Deaton discussed faculty influence on student drinking habits and the importance of MU’s existing alcohol education programs. His comments were in response to emails from a University Hospital emergency room physician who was concerned about the number of students he was seeing with alcohol poisoning.
Deaton said alcohol abuse is a national problem among universities, and MU has had its own issues controlling alcohol-related incidents. He stressed not only the life- and health-threatening effects of alcohol abuse, but also the negative consequences of alcohol on intellectual and social development while students study at the university.
“You’ve seen newspaper reports of how deleterious this can be,” Deaton said. “The closer you get to it and supervise the students, you see the damaging effect of this. It’s heartbreaking.”
In his presentation, Deaton provided ideas to decrease alcohol abuse. He suggested increasing funds for alcohol education programs and freshmen experiences classes. The measure that elicited laughs from attendees was an increase in the number Friday 8 a.m. classes, something Deaton said he has the research to back up. The move would attempt to curb Thursday-night partying.
Deaton also said faculty members who joke about alcohol consumption can hurt students.
“This is the one that always bothers me the most,” Deaton said. “It’s very damaging, and research shows this. It tends to legitimize the students’ [drinking].”
Deaton praised alcohol education efforts led by Kim Dude, director of the MU Wellness Resource Center. The center will receive a funding boost of $40,769 from football Coach Gary Pinkel. As part of his punishment for his recent DWI arrest, Pinkel requested to donate one week’s worth of his salary to the center, which will use the money to fund various education programs.
“The University of Missouri can be proud of what it’s doing [to educate students about alcohol abuse],” Deaton said. “Nevertheless, there’s so much more that can be done. What [Dude’s] work will emphasize is, if we are truly addressing the issue, we all have to be engaged in it.”
— Trevor Eischen