House passes bill to allow higher education tuition increases

WICKER PERLIS
Missouri News Network

Tuition could soon be going up for public university students in Missouri, but proponents of the bill passed by the Missouri House on Thursday say that won’t necessarily be a bad thing for students.

In 2007, members of the General Assembly who were concerned with rising tuition passed a law which required that tuition increases not exceed the rate of inflation. Now, in an amendment to other higher education legislation, Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, seeks to undo that.

From the House floor, Richey explained that the 2007 legislation only limited increases in tuition, not fees. Additionally, he said it required universities to charge the same tuition to all students, regardless of how costly their instruction might be. For example, an engineering or nursing student will pay the same tuition as one studying English. In order to account for this without raising tuition, universities like MU charge program fees to students.

“They can’t raise the tuition, they have to raise the fees,” said Rep. John Wiemann, R-O’Fallon.

Richey said his legislation would allow universities to implement “differentiated tuition,” where students seeking less-expensive degrees and degrees that lead to lower-paying jobs will pay less than students seeking more expensive degrees and degrees that lead to higher-paying jobs. He said this system would “do away with course fees entirely,” although the bill doesn’t require universities to end fees.

In a February hearing for a bill similar to the amendment, Dusty Schnieders, director of government relations for the UM system, testified that their member universities would do just that.

“If this bill went into effect today, we would move our tuition into a differential tuition. So the fees would go away,” Schnieders said. “It would be more transparent for the students and their family members paying for the bill.”

The bill gained support from both sides of the aisle.

Rep. Barbara Phifer, D-St. Louis, said she was initially “disgusted” by the idea of raising tuition, but she has come to “reluctantly support” the idea of differentiated tuition. Phifer also pointed out that most Midwestern states with land grant universities already allow this kind of tuition.

Now that the bill has passed in the House, it will need the approval of the Senate and signature of the governor before it can take effect. If the bill does become law, Richey said the universities he has heard from plan to implement any changes only for students who are not “close to graduating.”