Fee puts MSSU over cap

A new fee approved by Missouri Southern’s Board of Governors last summer may have put the University over state-mandated limits on tuition hikes.

The $150 per semester fee for the Beimdiek Student Recreation Center was not included in the formula used by the Board in computing the $8 per credit hour tuition increase approved Feb. 15 at its regular meeting. Senate Bill 389, passed last year by the Missouri General Assembly and signed by Gov. Matt Blunt limits increases in yearly tuition and fees to the rise in the Consumer Price Index times the average tuition of four-year institutions and Linn State Technical College. When added into the equation, the fee puts Southern over the cap.

The Board apparently considered the fee an exception to the cap under a provision of the law that says “tuition shall not include any fee established by the student body of the institution.”

As of press time, efforts by The Chart to establish student approval of the fee have been unsuccessful and University officials have been unable to verify such a vote as well.

Under the law, fees established by the student body of the institution are defined as “fees the amount of which has been approved by a majority of students who vote in a campus-wide election or by a majority of members of an officially recognized student government organization popularly elected by students of an institution.” Southern’s Student Senate qualifies as such a body.

If the issue was brought before Senate Senate President Tim Fisher says it would very likely pass.

“It could be done during normal business,” Fisher said. “I think this body here is very positive about it, particularly after the presentation that we had and I don’t think there’d be but maybe a handful that would vote against it, if that.”

Fisher says he believes the student body supports the idea.

Eric Norris, then-student representative to the Board, assured it last year that students supported the idea. That support, however seems to lack the authority of a formal vote as the state requires.

“The language of our policy does say, and I think the law itself says: A fee the amount of which was approved by the student body,” said Zora Aubuchon, assistant commissioner at the Missouri Department of Higher Education.

While the law says institutions that exceed the cap can require them to remit 5 percent of its current state year appropriation to the state’s general revenue fund, Aubuchon said the MDHE would be understanding.

“I think that because this policy is new, we certainly would be willing to work with the leaders at your institution to try to clarify the situation,” Aubuchon said. “It is certainly not the Coordinating Board’s desire to be punitive in cases where there has been a misunderstanding or where response to policy is evolving and so this is certainly an area where we would likely engage in dialog.”

According to a timeline provided to The Chart by Darren Fullerton, director of campus recreation and wellness, the project has been one seeking student opinion. Senate began discussing the idea in spring of 2000 after the construction of Leggett & Platt Athletic Center. Students attempting to use the facility found the weight room restricted to athlete use and courts needed for practices.

“There’s some academic classes in the evenings too and then there’s a lot of outside rentals,” Fullerton said. “There’s something all the time.”

In November of 2004, then-President Julio Leon visited the Senate. He told senators the fee could reach the $150 recommended by the Board at the time, but he wanted to keep it closer to $100. The Senate submitted a resolution to the Board in 2005 Norris gave a presentation before Senate in 2006. The fee was set in June 2007. Whether the student body ever actually accepted the fee is unclear.

Students were surveyed in 2004 and 43 percent approved of a $147 fee, 37 percent requested a scaled-back version of the plans at $115 and 20 percent of the 575 competed surveys said they would prefer no fee and no building. The issue of fees was not brought to a vote before Senate. The survey did not achieve a majority and did not include the specific language required by the new law.

The $150 fee had been adopted in during the summer, but not enacted. If students had started paying the fee before December it would have been grandfathered into the tuition scale.

“Fees that were approved before that the year that the new policy went into effect, which is before this year, those student fees were included in the base tuition,” said Zora Aubuchon, assistant commissioner at the Missouri Department of Higher Education. “And so it’s only student fees going forward that are not included in the base tuition.”

Dr. Terri Agee, senior vice president explained the timing of the fee’s implementation.

“Obviously the Board could have implemented the fee for fall of 2007, but we really wanted the fee to be closer to the time of construction.”

Based on tuition figures from the MDHE and the Consumer Price Index figures from the U.S. Department of Labor, Southern would be entitled to raise annual costs $258.79 for 2008-2009. Based on $8 dollars per credit hour and a 15-hour semester load (the MDHE standard), the University increased tuition by $240 per year. When the $150 per semester recreation center fee is factored in, costs rose by $540 per year.

Board Chairman Dwight Douglas told The Chart that students should have been aware that from the beginning the facility would involve a fee.

“There were at least six resolutions from the Senate and they always knew it involved the fee,” he said. “I’m surprised this is an issue, we had Eric Norris at the meeting saying the Board was dropping the ball and the students want this to be the number-one priority.”