- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Leaders of Missouri’s public community colleges and universities said Monday that they will freeze undergraduate tuition next school year as part of a deal with Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon to ramp up funding from the state, although the extra spending needs legislative approval.

Nixon is recommending a $55.7 million increase in performance funding next fiscal year, which would bring total state higher education funding to $985 million. That would be a 6 percent increase, and state budget director Dan Haug said that would be the most ever budgeted for higher education.

Haug said state funding for public colleges and universities reached a high of $968 million in fiscal year 2002, before a series of cuts.

“This significant investment would enable Missouri’s community colleges to freeze tuition next year and to continue delivering the quality, affordable education our students need and deserve,” said St. Charles Community College President Ron Chesbrough, who is chairman of a Missouri Community College Association council of presidents and chancellors. Chesbrough and the head of a public university council touted the agreement during an announcement outside the governor’s mansion in Jefferson City.

The proposal requires legislative approval, and Nixon said he’s “extremely optimistic” lawmakers will approve the plan during the session that starts in January.

“I feel very, very deeply that we have got to prepare our students for jobs of the future,” Nixon said. “I’m confident that this is the right priority to have, and I’m looking forward to working to get it passed.”

But House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, expressed doubts about the passage of such an increase. Requests for comment from the Senate budget leader were not immediately returned Monday.

“The State of Missouri does what it can with scholarships and caps on tuition increases,” Flanigan said in a statement. “However, such a significant recommended increase by the governor is likely to take a back seat” to necessary spending increases on health care.

College boards also would need to approve the tuition freezes endorsed by college and university presidents.

Performance funding is awarded based on student retention, graduation rates and other measures.

Higher education leaders also agreed they would set aside more than $9 million of the proposed increase for science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.

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