Where we’re at now

I read a really interesting article from the Chronicle of Higher Education today about the misconception that faculty salaries are driving up the cost of a college degree.

Here’s a quick excerpt of the most compelling piece of the story:

“The contrast is starkest at public institutions, where tuition and fees have increased over the past decade by 72 percent when accounting for inflation, largely in response to declines in state support. During that same time, the salaries of public-college professors, when adjusted for inflation, rose by less than 1 percent at doctoral and baccalaureate institutions and fell by more than 5 percent at master’s universities.”

All this just days after our own UM System administrators discussed the prospect of raising faculty salaries at last week’s Board of Curators meetings at Missouri S&T.

With the state funding roller coaster the system has been riding for the past few months, the future of any salary increases is still up in the air. UM has been pretty tight-lipped about its plan if it doesn’t get any funding cuts but discussed an average increase of 1.75 percent to faculty salaries across the four system campuses.

Of course, that’s still subject to change the system won’t be able to make any real decisions until it knows exactly how much money it will be getting from the state.

A Senate budget will likely be voted out of committee this week and will likely hit the Senate floor next week, when it would be open for debate. Last week the committee agreed with the House to keep stable funding for higher education, among other things, and the UM system’s VP of government relations Steve Knorr seemed optimistic at the meetings in Rolla that a budget without cuts to higher education would be sent to the governor.

Of course, this is potentially the slowest developing story I’ve ever worked on and there will continue to be updates. I’ve struggled to keep posting on this blog regularly, but I’m always spewing facts, figures and insights  — if you can call them that — on Twitter at @zach_murdock.

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Hooray Jefferson City!

**This post was originally published on one of my class blogs.**

*UPDATE: An earlier version of this post was too generous in estimating Phil’s weight. After speaking with him Friday afternoon, I’ve updated his weight to more accurately — but still pretty generously — identify my friend’s dimensions.*

I had a wardrobe malfunction Tuesday morning.

On Monday night I was stuck scrambling trying to figure what I was going to need in Jefferson City for Tuesday morning’s House Higher Education Committee meeting.

I was already a bit nervous because I’ve never done any reporting at the Capitol before, and then it occurred to me: my closet ≠ Capitol dress code.

So after an hour-long panic attack, I was able to find my one nice tie — that I wouldn’t have brought to Columbia had my mom not hassled me about it in August — and sent out a series of messages to men of all shapes and sizes.

I have one broadcast friend with whom I share such a likeness we could pass for each other’s Hollywood stunt doubles, but his jackets were at the dry cleaners. Then a sampling of his KOMU colleagues left me just as jacket-less as I was an hour earlier.

After a few minutes of frantic pacing, I had a stroke of genius. I remembered an old friend from high school who definitely had a navy blue blazer, definitely wouldn’t need it on a Tuesday morning and was definitely home on Monday night to cough it up.

It was a lock. A text message and phone call later, I was en route to the savior jacket.

When Phil opened the door after two knocks, his six-foot-two, 220-pound frame filled the doorway.

With too-big jacket in tow, I retreated back to my bedroom to plot my reporting for the morning and figure out how I’d manage to pull off this wardrobe.

On Tuesday morning, I set out for my first trip to the Capitol and in true Missouri form, the weather was gorgeous. So gorgeous, in fact, that one wouldn’t even want to wear a jacket because it would be too hot.

To make something out of nothing — as all good reporters have had to do at some point — I draped the too-big jacket over my arm as a prop. I never once put it on, but looked as though I had just taken it off for the meeting the entire time I was there.

The whole ordeal reminded me of this Red Stripe commercial, though I’m not sure why.

Hooray Jefferson City!

What’s a guy gotta do?

**Editors note: I originally published this post on our Advanced Reporting class blog.**

Why don’t people care about tuition increases? Is it something we did? Is it something we said?

Because I’m always a little hurt when the things we’re writing about for higher education aren’t consistently on the most read list, and you never seem to hear Joy praising the analytics of the most popular “strategic financial planning and assumptions” article.

Tom told you higher education is the company in the company town. George Kennedy told you that MU is a $2 billion business and that MU’s weekly payroll is around $16 million. Hell, in Columbia, you can’t spit without hitting something funded directly (or indirectly) by higher education.

So tell me, what do we need to do get people’s attention? How do we convince people of the importance of every Board of Curators decision?

We write articles, we tweet, we blog, we make graphics, we share, we engage — I even wrote an opinion piece in December, after the announcement of the new president. At this point, I’m not sure what we haven’t tried.

But I think I know what makes the difference: I see the connection from curator to student in every decision the board makes.

For people to care, they need to see what I see. To do that I think we need to come up with something new — something very different — to get people’s attention.

But I just haven’t quite figured out what that is.

The sorry state of state funding

Here’s what may be the most important excerpt from interim system president Steve Owen’s response to Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed cuts to Missouri higher education:

“It is fair to ask how long we can continue to do more with less. After a decade of reductions in state support and implementation of operational efficiencies, we are near the point where either the level of funding will have to increase or the scope and quality of services will have to decrease.”

As proposed, the fiscal year 2013 budget would cut $89 million from four-year Missouri colleges and universities, including $55 million in cuts to the UM System budget.

This graphic shows the frightening decline of state support over the last decade and couple this with record enrollments for every year shown in the graphic. A $55 million reduction in funding for the UM System, a 13.7 percent decrease from fiscal year 2012’s gross appropriations. (Graphic credit to Nicole Thompson)

At its December meeting, the Board of Curators discussed a preliminary proposal to raise tuition and course fees the rate of inflation (except at Missouri S&T), but that plan was contingent on a state budget with unchanged appropriations for the system.

When that proposal was discussed in December, the system was already preparing to cover a $78 million gap, and with an additional $55 million to make up it seems highly likely that tuition and course fees will have to go up even more.

The board will discuss and vote on tuition increases at their next meeting, Feb. 2-3 at UMKC.

I hope to have more information over the next two weeks and I’ll be there in person to cover the tuition discussion in Kansas City.

For the latest on the system’s budget gap and what it means for tuition, course fees, deferred maintenance and employee salaries and benefits, stay tuned here, keep an eye on my Twitter, @zach_murdock, and check out columbiamissourian.com.

We’ll have a new president Tuesday!

Yes indeed, this whole thing is finally coming to a close.

After a yearlong search, the UM System will name its 23rd president tomorrow and we still have no idea who it is.

The last presidential search was spoiled before an announcement was made when two potential candidates (U.S. Rep Kenny Hulshov, and then New Jersey businessman Terry Sutter) were publicly considered, but board Chairman Warren Erdman has made damn sure that won’t happen again this time.

Last Friday, Janese Silvey of the Columbia Daily Tribune checked into a blog reporting that University of Florida president Bernie Machen was the board’s finalist, but Silvey was able to shoot that down with a call with new curator Craig Van Matre.

Since then, there haven’t really been any good, constructive rumors (that I’ve heard). So it seems we won’t know the president until the board announces one, just the way Erdman designed it.

As always (of course I wouldn’t miss the big finale!) I’ll be at the announcement live tweeting from @zach_murdock and @CoMissourian. For the most comprehensive coverage of the new president, check out columbiamisourian.com for articles and check back here for more behind-the-scenes and analysis.

UPDATE: presidential search analysis

*This is an update on the post titled “A quick, semi-speculative presidential search analysis” that I published Monday night about this week’s developments in the UM System presidential search.*

I’ll be straightforward — I was wrong. My initial hunch that the UM System Board of Curators would announce a new president this week turns out to be incorrect.

I talked about this gut feeling with UM System spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead after Tuesday’s search advisory committee meeting and I believe that may have prompted the phone call I received while I worked on my story.

Hollingshead called to explain that after talking with board Chairman Warren Erdman that she didn’t want to string people along and leave folks confident that the meeting with a single candidate today would mean that we should expect a presidential selection Friday morning.

I think my openness with her — and my not-so-subtle assertion to her that I really did believe we’d have a new president this week — put her in a position where she saw what direction my writing would take. On the phone we even spoke about how the nature of Tuesday’s meeting certainly made it seem to the all of the media present that the search was all but officially over.

But, she assured me that the search is very much alive and kicking. Which means I need a new hunch…

Now I think I may understand the procedure the rest of this search could take. Perhaps (and of course, I’m still stuck speculating here) the search advisory committee will reconvene again — and even once (twice?) more — and interview this list of the curator’s decided finalists one by one.

That would mean that over winter break this advisory committee could continue to interview candidates individually and get a sense for which finalist they think is the best fit for the system. And that means we’ve still got some time on our hands.

This revelation changes things for me, and shakes up any idea of a timeline that I thought I had. Frankly, I think we may just have to wait and see how this week plays out before I can predict how things may continue.

I’ll be in St. Louis for the board’s regularly scheduled December meetings this Thursday and Friday. As always, I’ll be tweeting from @zach_murdock, blogging right here and publishing on columbiamissourian.com — follow along at all three for the latest (and I’d say most comprehensive) coverage/analysis of the #prezsearch.