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Missouri is on the verge of removing its tuition cap. Will other states follow?

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The Missouri legislature is proposing a higher education bill that, among other measures, would remove the cap on public college tuition increases imposed by the state several years ago.

Raising the cap is one of the measures in House Bill 297. While a few lawmakers – Republicans and Democrats – have expressed concern about how the measure might affect college affordability, the bill law passed the Republican-dominated House of Representatives with a veto. from 128-14.

The bill was passed by a Senate education committee this week, with a single “no” vote. He will speak for a vote by the entire Senate. The bill includes several popular measures concerning, for example, the granting of credits for advanced placement courses and the addition of the Students’ Right to Know Act, which aims to make college costs more transparent.

In short, here is the legislative history of tuition controls in Missouri. During the 2007 legislative session, the Missouri General Assembly passed SB 389, which established the Law on the Financing of Higher Education Students (HESFA). It was signed by the governor. The law limited the state’s public colleges and universities to raising tuition and mandatory fees for Missouri resident undergraduates to a maximum of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). If institutions exceeded this limit, they incurred a penalty in their credit, unless waived by the Higher Education Coordination Council (CBHE).

Then, in the 2018 legislative session, the General Assembly passed additional legislation – SB 807 and 577 – which modified the provisions of the HEFSA. With the revisions, public institutions were allowed to increase the tuition and fees charged to resident undergraduates by the CPI plus an amount not exceeding 5% which would result in an increase in net tuition fees not exceeding not the amount by which the state appropriates for an institution was waived in the previous fiscal year.

Institutions have been allowed to increase fees for specific courses. While some lawmakers believed that these fees increased transparency as to where the institution’s income was generated and spent, most families and students did not consider the additional fees beyond their college fee bill. schooling as a model of transparency.

This year’s House Bill 297 specifies that tuition caps will no longer apply after July 1, 2022. It also states that public institutions that charge differentiated tuition fees (different rates for different undergraduate programs ) will no longer be able to charge the required course fees, which was one of the main ways in which institutions had increased their revenues while remaining within the old limits.

According to a 2020 survey by the State Education Commission:

  • Eleven states have adopted state policies to cap or freeze increases in undergraduate tuition fees by public four-year institutions, and
  • Ten states have adopted public policies to cap or freeze the growth of tuition fees in the two-year public sector.

What explains the turnaround in Missouri policy? The legislature was firmly Republican when the original and revised tuition fee legislation was passed. It’s even more true now, so it’s not just a matter of controlling political parties.

When tuition caps were first imposed, they were aimed at controlling the costs of college education and, in the past decade, when public institutions in Missouri and most other states have seen cuts. of their credits, they have prevented institutions from increasing their tuition fees as a way to save time. for losses of state funding. For some lawmakers, the caps may have been adopted as a first step towards not funding public higher education.

Why wouldn’t the Missouri General Assembly still worry about the affordability of universities? Has he fully embraced the free market philosophy that Republicans often tout? Does it signal a further shift towards a user tax approach to financing higher education, viewing it more as a personal investment than a public good? Has the trade-off between allowing differential tuition fees in exchange for prohibiting the use of much less transparent course fees been a deciding factor? (If so, students are very unlikely to realize any real savings.)

Paul Wagner, executive director of the Council on Public Higher Education, which includes most of Missouri’s public universities, expressed this view. “A major factor is certainly the recognition by lawmakers that universities have done an exceptional job in affordability over the past 15 years. Overall, tuition fee increases at universities in Missouri have been below even the statutory CPI limits. Additionally, many lawmakers certainly believe that free market principles are important and that market forces will govern tuition fee increases, especially with such intense competition for enrollment in this state.

The main reason Missouri is removing its tuition fee caps may be mainly because lawmakers concluded the caps weren’t so effective in controlling costs after all. Between individual course fees, special program fees, and changes in tuition rebates through institutional financial aid scholarships, universities have several tuition substitutes that they can use to offset anything. ceiling. Perhaps other states that cap tuition fees will follow a similar deregulation path, preferring to let their public institutions charge what the market will bear rather than controlling tuition fees only to see other increases take their place.

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