Sleepless in the Falls
MSU President Rogers restless over state's roller coaster higher ed financing plans
By Ann Work/Times Record News
February 25, 2005
The roller coaster ride of higher education finance is keeping one university president awake at night.
The jerky turns and sudden dips in what used to be you-can-count-on-it funding have Dr. Jesse Rogers, Midwestern State University president, wondering if he will step off this ride at the end of the legislative session with all of his funding intact.
It doesn't look good, he said Thursday in a one-on-one discussion with the Times Record News.
MSU stands to gain only $400,000 from new state funding formulas - if the new formulas are used at all.
Rogers worked for two years helping the state re-draw the formulas through which state higher education money is distributed.
Old funding formulas were based on tradition. New ones match the cost requirements of university courses to funding dollars - a change Rogers is confident about.
Some majors and courses simply cost more to offer - like engineering or chemistry, Rogers said.
Others, like a major in economics, cost less.
"In the long run, we'll all be better off. We now have a system for distributing funds based on cost and not historic precedent."
But some universities are asking for "more study" of the plan.
With $30 million in new money expected to go to universities, new formulas would put an extra $400,000 in MSU coffers. "That's very small," Rogers said. "But at least it's not another cut."
Legislators are also considering doing away with the line-item appropriations that mean a lot to smaller schools like MSU.
Instead, the state would redistribute the same money in a new way: through more formulas. The smaller to mid-size schools lose in the formula game, Rogers said.
MSU could expect to lose 30 to 45 percent of its line-item funding - at a crucial time when new dollars for education are scarce.
"This doesn't save the state a dime. It only redistributes higher ed funding that's already there. But the formulas heavily favor graduate schools and Ph.D.-granting institutions," Rogers said.
Another university staple - the Higher Education Assistance Fund (HEF) - is also at risk.
This $175 million that is distributed every five years has traditionally gone to 20 schools like MSU to help them build and maintain buildings.
MSU gets $3.07 million annually from HEF.
MSU has already lost $280,000 per year for the next five years from changes to HEF.
"We can't just ignore that. That's $1.5 million in five years. That's really a hit," Rogers said.
Part of the money has been bonded to build MSU's new business building.
Education reporter Ann Work can be reached at (940)763-7538 or by e-mail at worka(at)TimesRecordNews.com.
Ups & downs
Midwestern State University's state funding losses were matched by record tuition hikes in November.
The 49 percent tuition increases that began spring 2005 and continue into fall 2005 - a total of $21 per semester credit hour - were in direct response to its loss of state money, MSU President Jesse Rogers said.
"These cuts have been passed on to a significant degree through tuition increases to our students," Rogers said.
Faculty can expect a 3 to 4 percent salary increase this year because of the tuition hike.
Once he opposed tuition deregulation, Rogers said. "It turned out to be our salvation."
By deregulating tuition, the state provided a way for universities to make up its inability to fully fund them.
"But there is a limit to that," Rogers said of tuition hikes. "I think we've about reached that point."
It's a continuing balancing act to maintain the quality of a university and keep it affordable, Rogers said.