As we head into the final stretch of the Spring 2017 semester (can you believe commencement is just a month away?), I want to take a few minutes to speak to you about some matters of importance to all of us here at Missouri Southern.
I know the budget situation remains at the forefront of our attention, so I’ll address that in detail.
As you know, Missouri Southern – as with other higher-education institutions throughout the state – has had to face difficult budget cuts as our new Governor works to balance the budget.
For the 2016-17 academic year, the university will suffer withholdings of $1.7 million from our core budget and eliminated funding for the UMKC Dental School satellite facility on our campus. For the 2017-18 academic year, the Governor has recommended an additional core budget reduction of $2.2 million. If the Governor’s recommended budget is approved, the 2017-18 appropriation will fall below the amount we received in 2007-08 and result in state support falling to an all-time low of less than 30% of total university revenues.
We are working with our friends in Jefferson City to limit the core budget cuts and to restore funding for the Dental School partnership with UMKC. But, we won’t know the final outcome until the House and Senate meet in conference to hammer out the final budget that will be sent to the Governor. It is almost a certainty that we will be operating with fewer state dollars than we received this year.
Accordingly, I have been required to make some very difficult decisions regarding next year’s university budget. The first difficult decision was to admit that we will need to recommend the Board of Governors adopt a deficit budget of about -$800,000 for the 2017-18 year. I hate deficit budgets, but to cut deeper than what will be recommended would move us beyond painful and toward permanently damaging the campus.
I also believe that announcing cuts should be done “all at once” rather than “dribbling it out” over time and causing endless anxiety for everyone. So, here’s the sad and disturbing news.
The primary goal of this budget cutting exercise was to “protect the classroom” to the greatest degree possible as our fundamental purpose is to be a Baccalaureate and Master’s degree granting institution. As a result, the other areas of campus received the bulk of the reductions – Athletics, Advancement/URM, Business Affairs, and Student Affairs. The Academic programs that were impacted had been previously identified as needing adjustments.
Regarding personnel, we are sadly going to lose 13 full-time positions (either through terminations or failing to fill existing vacancies). NOTE: All affected employees have been notified and we regret they are leaving us but sincerely thank each of them for their service.
Among the posts that will go unfilled are the Dean of Students and the Associate Athletic Director positions. But, we wish Dr. Ron Mitchell all the best as he re-enters the P-12 world as the new Superintendent for the East Newton School District; and, we also wish Rachel Burleson all the success in the world as she takes on the Athletic Director role at Franklin Pierce University. We will leave the Assistant Dean of Business and Dental Hygiene Clinic Coordinator positions unfilled at this time also.
Regarding programs and activities, the following will be discontinued:
- Legislative Internship Program
- Southern Gold Dance Team
- Vivid – student-produced publication
- Fire Academy
- Dental Hygiene satellite programs in Sikeston and Rolla
- Paralegal Certificate Program
Additionally, each operational unit has been asked to trim travel budgets, equipment purchases, and all other areas that can possibly be restricted at this time. And, to their great credit, all areas have made the necessary adjustments to adapt to these trying times.
When we look beyond this year of drastic budget cuts, what should we be focused on as we start looking forward to the 2017-18 academic year?
First, we must face the reality that we have become an “enrollment- and tuition-driven” institution. The State of Missouri has convinced me that we may never see the type of support that state universities historically enjoyed. This reality places an even heavier emphasis on the important work all of you are doing with the Great Game of Education, because it has caused everyone to recognize that enrollment and retention will be the best and perhaps only way to improve the “critical number” going forward. Frankly, the progress we have made via the Great Game helped us stave off even deeper budget cuts this year, and I am confident it will lead us to much healthier budgets in the future.
Second, we must commit ourselves to preparing the campus, community and State Capitol for the fact that we need a significant tuition increase to meet the needs of our growing student body. Currently, our tuition is $20 per credit hour below Missouri Western (our sister institution). We need to pursue a tuition increase somewhere in that neighborhood to give our students the best educational experience possible. Fortunately, we have a campus-wide group working on different tuition models that will make the increase more manageable for students, acceptable to the Missouri Department of Higher Education (MDHE), and valuable to Missouri Southern as a whole. Some of the options they are considering include “blocked tuition” (4 years at the same tuition level), “plateaued tuition” (charging for 12 hours but extra hours are free), “differential tuition” (regular tuition for General Education classes but higher tuition for specialty courses like Nursing, Teacher Education, and/or the Arts, etc.) or some combination of the above.
Third, we all need to keep an eye on the new generation of “program review” that will be conducted in the coming months by MDHE. It appears the singular focus will be on “completers” – defined as graduates of major fields of study. Since this is a historical recount of the record, there is little we can do other than argue that some disciplinary majors with low graduate totals should be combined with similar majors (Modern Languages, Social Sciences, etc.). Perhaps there are other ideas, so please feel free to share.
Be sure to mark your calendars for several upcoming events.
The Southern Symphony Orchestra, the Missouri Southern Concert Chorale and Chamber Singers will team together for a performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 23, at Central Christian Center. The combined talents of these student groups – under the direction of Dr. David Sharlow and Dr. Jeff Macomber – is tremendous. You won’t want to miss it.
The 38th annual Spring Picnic is planned for Friday, April 28. There’s a Western theme for the event, which will feature music from Jordy Searcy, who appeared on Season 7 of “The Voice.”
And of course, commencement ceremonies are set for Saturday, May 13 in the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center (Business and Education at 9:30 am; Arts & Sciences and Health Sciences at 1:00 pm). Being able to congratulate our students as they cross the stage and begin the next chapter in their lives is a tremendous honor. It’s the culmination of everything they’ve worked toward here at Missouri Southern. I hope you can join us.
As we shift gears once again in the sprint toward Finals Week, hold your heads high. I’m proud to serve this wonderful institution and to be part of the Missouri Southern family.
I hope you feel the same.