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By Zara McDowell-Barker April 10, 2019

Missouri ranks toward the bottom of higher education funding

Higher education funding is always a top subject in the Missouri state legislature, with some universities holding annual legislative days at the Capitol in hopes of boosting support for their institutions.

On Feb. 14, Missouri State University’s President Clif Smart said, "Missouri ranks 45th in the nation in per capita state fiscal support for higher education and @MissouriState is last among Missouri schools. This must change."

We wanted to find out if those numbers were true.

State-by-state data

Smart’s chief of staff Ryan DeBoef directed us to data from the Missouri Budget Project’s annual report. The Missouri Budget Project describes itself as an organization that "provides independent, objective research and analysis of state budget and tax issues."

The Missouri Budget Project derives its information from Grapevine. Since 1961, Grapevine, now housed through Illinois State University, publishes data on state tax support for higher education every year. All organizations we reached out to use the Grapevine data.

According to the Grapevine data, Missouri ranked 45th in state funding for higher education per capita in 2018, 2017 and 2016.

This verified Smart’s first claim that Missouri ranks 45th in the nation in per capita state fiscal support out of all the higher education facilities. Things have actually gotten worse since the numbers Smart cited. Missouri ranked No. 46 for the 2019 data.

"President Smart’s statement on MSU funding appropriations does look at per student funding, and his statement is accurate," said Kim Dancy, assistant director of policy research for the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

IHEP is a nonpartisan policy and research center that, "serves as a resource for government agencies higher education organizations, philanthropic foundations, and others committed to increasing access and success in postsecondary education."

However, Dancy suggested analyzing higher education funding through full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment.

"This gives a more nuanced view of how state higher education appropriations are being used to serve current students and promote their success," she said.

The latest data available looking at higher education funding through FTE is from 2017, and the data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association shows Missouri ranks 38 out of 50 in state appropriations per FTE.

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"While Missouri is certainly not the worst in per student funding, it has been consistently dropping in this measure over the past three years," Dancy said.

How about the second part of his claim?

In the last part of his tweet, Smart said Missouri State is last among Missouri schools.

Does Missouri State University rank last in per capita state fiscal support for higher education?

When asked where Smart got his numbers from, DeBoef pointed us to the Missouri Department of Higher Education’s yearly higher education factbook, which was published in February 2019, but did not include numbers from fiscal year 2019.

In the factbook, Missouri State University has the lowest state appropriations level per FTE among public four-year universities in the state.

This means Missouri State University receives the least amount of funding out of all public universities in the state, with $4,225 per student.

In comparison, the public university with the most state funding is Lincoln University with $9,764 per student. The largest university system in the state, the University of Missouri System, gets $7,373 per student.

"By allowing Missouri State’s funding to fall hundreds of dollars per student behind other universities, the state has inadvertently created a system where institutions are penalized for enrollment growth and rewarded for enrollment decline," DeBoef said.

"While per student appropriations often fluctuate year-by-year," Dancy said, Missouri State University ranked among the lowest in the state over the past 10 years.

Missouri State University has a plan to combat the low numbers.

"We are working with legislators throughout the state to advocate for an equity adjustment in Missouri State’s operating appropriation to address this issue," DeBoef said. "We have seen some success in the early stages of the state’s budgeting process."

However, he said the process is nowhere near completion and the university is not sure what the outcome will be. "But we remain hopeful that the funding gap between Missouri State and the next lowest-funded university will be eliminated in the coming fiscal year," DeBoef said.

Our ruling

Missouri State University’s President Clif Smart said, "Missouri ranks 45th in the nation in per capita state fiscal support for higher education and @MissouriState is last among Missouri schools."

While Smart did not have the latest numbers from fiscal year 2019, he was on track with the numbers from previous years, showing Missouri and Missouri State University rank low in comparison to other states and comparable universities. We rate this statement True.

Our Sources

Grapevine database, Fiscal Year 2013 - 2019, Accessed March 18, 2019

Grapevine site through Illinois State, Data tables, Accessed March 18, 2019

Missouri Budget Project, Higher Education comparison, Last updated Feb. 14, 2019

Missouri’s Department of Higher Education, Higher Education Factbook, Published Feb 2019

State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, Fiscal Year 2017 Higher Education Finance booklet, Accessed March 20, 2019

Interview, chief of staff for Missouri State University president Ryan DeBoef, March 19, 2019

Interview, Institute for Higher Education Policy’s Assistant Director of Policy Research Kim Dancy, March 19, 2019

Interview, President & CEO Missouri Budget Project Amy Blouin, March 21, 2019

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Missouri ranks toward the bottom of higher education funding

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