Budget Debate

I’m tweeting throughout the afternoon with some updates from the debate going on in the Missouri House today. Representatives are discussing amendments to a budget proposed by Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, among other bills.

From the documents I’ve seen online, the most relevant amendment to my UM System coverage is an amendment to the system’s $360 million in proposed state support (section 3.210). If approved, the amendment would knock about $4 million off that state funding.

Follow me on Twitter for more info as it becomes available.

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.

Offseason wrap up

At the beginning of the fall semester I wrote a short piece about what it meant to finally have my shot at the Missourian, and I wanted to make it count. And hell, after more than 40 bylines, a theatre agreement, performance funding and a new UM System president, I think I’ve made the first impression I laid out in that original post.

But a new year brings a new semester and a new set of challenges, and it’s time to get right back at it.

All of the lessons I learned over my first semester at the Missourian were really just the foundation and basic structure of what I’d like to do as a professional journalist and writer — like a Phase 1 of the “Missouri Method” we were promised as freshmen.

But after the first reporting class for the Missourian, the method isn’t based so much structure as it is opportunity.

I’m taking Advanced Reporting this semester (and have the distinct privilege of staying on the higher education beat, which means I get to keep all those sources I’ve come to know so well) which is essentially enterprise reporting 101. It’s all the same newsroom resources without all the general assignment strings attached and that freedom will give me the chance to take on longer, more challenging pieces within the higher ed beat.

There’ll be more investigation, more analysis, bigger issues and harder hitting reporting. I’ll have more time to settle in to a big work and make it a reporting masterpiece.

So after a semi-hiatus from (almost) all things work this winter break, I’ll be back in Columbia Saturday to get to work on “what’s next.”

On the slate now are a few things I can talk about, and a couple of things I want to keep secret (for now).

Obviously UM System tuition increases will dominate the coming weeks, but I want to get a good jump on one of my secret ideas and hopefully have something really substantial out in the next four or five weeks.

Issues like e-Learning, the system retirement plan and even (dare I say) an MU diversity course requirement could be major players in 2012.

But not to get ahead of myself, what’s most important is to plug back in to the Columbia community and settle down for what should be the most challenging — and hopefully satisfying — semester I’ve had yet.