COLUMBIA - As Mizzou students celebrate graduation Friday and Saturday, UM President Tim Wolfe celebrates finishing his first school semester in his new role.
"It sure feels great to be home," Wolfe said. Wolfe is a Rock Bridge High School and MU alum, and said he remembers Columbia as his launching pad.
"This campus gave me what I think is the perfect start of a business career because I had all the fundamentals," he said.
Wolfe started his undergraduate years at MU in the late 1970s, where he said he spent most of his time in Middlebush Hall on campus earning his business degree. He graduated in 1980. Since then, Cornell Hall has become the new home to business majors. Despite a growing campus and new additions, there's something that has remained the same over the years. The financial burden of college continues to strike students pocket books years later.
Something Wolfe said he remembers himself, "I was manager of the Sinclair gas station. I was a waiter and bartender at the Pasta Factory. I was going between jobs to get through school without owing the bank."
He hopes his past experience will lend him a hand in relating to what students are facing right now.
"I can appreciate the challenges that they are going through and obviously our goal is to make the University of Missouri and as affordable to as many students as possible," Wolfe said.
Now back on his old stomping ground, he said that's a top priority and his biggest challenge.
"The challenges might be the frustration that you can't make the changes and get the necessary resources to continue to support [what's] needed here."
Wolfe is working against some of the worst financial numbers the UM System has seen.
"Nobody would like a cut, but it is what it is," he said. "Well the first and most immediate challenge is that of the budget. We have a 7% reduction in the budget with state funding."
Governor Nixon originally announced a 12.5% cut to the UM System's budget that sent shock waves through the four schools it supports. Nixon later lowered that cut to 7%, but schools like Mizzou still have to raise tuition by 3%. Only 30% of funding comes from the state, while 70% comes from tuition at MU. Wolfe said the tuition increase matches current inflation rates, but adds the system continuously reminds the state it needs help.
"We're having conversations all the time. It's a non-stop conversation of what higher education offers to the state of Missouri," Wolfe said.
Wolfe argues the schools within the UM System are a huge asset the state shouldn't overlook. He said, for example, the schools conduct 94% of the research in the state; research that leads to jobs and economic development.
"I firmly believe that higher education is what's going to get us to a much quicker economic recovery than what we've seen so far," he said.
Cuts, however, are still imminent and Wolfe said around 200 to 240 jobs are on the line. For those who worry they might get the cut, Wolfe has this message.
"Rest assured, the last thing we want to do is eliminate any job," he said. "We are a people based business and anything we can do to protect our people we are going to be doing."
As Wolfe takes on a diminishing budget and growing student enrollments, he hopes those in the system, state and local community will learn to trust him.
"I am who I am," he said. "I'm passionate about what I do and I think over time people will see my passion and find overtime that they will trust me. "