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 Chronicle and how state funding is changing

This morning I spotted a very interesting read from the Chronicle of Higher Education about performance-based funding’s growing popularity among legislatures around the country.

The idea is that funding schools based on their performance in particular measures (think graduation rates, professional certificates awarded, credit hours completed, etc.) would reward the most efficient schools while squeezing the most out of every education-allocated state dollar during tough economic times.

Last fall, Missouri adopted performance measures and I covered them pretty thoroughly (and skeptically) in my reporting.

But the end of the Chronicle’s article hits on an important point that I’ve heard here in Missouri. When I spoke with UM System admin Nikki Krawitz last fall, she pointed out that the higher ed relationship goes both ways — while colleges and universities have to do more with less, the state bears plenty of responsibility to get those schools the resources they need.

Over the long term, that trend toward regulatory freedom will only increase, Mr. Reindl says, especially as the states’ shares of college budgets gets smaller. “Campuses,” he says, “are coming to lawmakers saying, If you are not going to give us as much money, should you really have the same amount of control?”

In December, UM Chancellors Leo Morton and Brady Deaton told the Board of Curators they’re under pressure from donors who feel they’re money is just supplementing state support. From my article about the December board meeting:

Deaton said several donors he has spoken with have said they will not continue to give to MU if state support keeps dwindling, specifically because they don’t want their money filling a funding gap created by the state.

Now, Missouri ranks 45 out of 50 in state funding per capita in higher education so it’s fair to say that the colleges and universities have been doing more with not just less, but nearly the least.

So without state support, what’s the future model of higher education for Missouri colleges, including the UM System? That’s, very literally, the multi-million dollar question.

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.