UM System President talks possible tuition hike, football & future cuts

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KOMU 8's Emily Spain talked with UM System President Mun Choi on Wednesday about the ongoing budget battle the university faces due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the one-on-one interview, Choi discussed current and future furloughs and layoffs at one of mid-Missouri's largest employers. He also talked about a potential tuition increase, the upcoming football season and recent meetings with state leaders.

Check out his answers below.

Q: Gov. Parson said he planned to talk to higher education leaders Wednesday, what can you share about that conversation? 

“I believe that meeting was in confidence, so, I don't want to break that confidence. But, what he shared is basically for us to prepare for more challenges ahead because the state is facing those challenges. But, he also asked us to be very strategic and to ensure that we protect those programs that support our mission. And, where we can help the state is by continuing to provide opportunities for economic and workforce development. And, we'll continue to do that.” 

Q: What updates are you able to provide related to furloughs and layoffs at this time? 

"Well, they're continuing...This will be a process that takes several weeks to several months. And, even with the budget planning that we have of a 12.5 percent [cut] across the system, we need to be able to pivot if we hear of new cuts. They may come from the state, there's a possibility of that, as well as our understanding of what the fall enrollment looks like...And so, we're monitoring the situation very carefully."

Q: Is there any timetable for when we could hear about additional furloughs and layoffs?

"The furloughs and layoffs and separations are occurring on a weekly basis. And we provide that information on our website to be able to share that in a transparent way with our community."

Q: When MU looks at academic programs and potential reductions, how are those decisions made?

"We have an accomplished group of faculty and administrators that are going to be evaluating based on data. It's going to be a data informed decision that evaluates the value that each of our programs and units provide towards the mission...And we'll also make it an inclusive approach where we take input from the stakeholders, both internal and external, before making the final decision.

Q: What's been the hardest part during this pandemic?

"The hardest part is saying goodbye to people that we value. We had to do this in 2017 to address $100 million deficit across the system. And, that's been the hardest part. And as you know, as I said earlier, that process will continue because of the financial challenges that we face. And going into the future we have to be even more vigilant in our approach for financial stewardship, cutting costs, as well as finding ways to grow revenue so that we can continue with the mission of the university."

Q: During Tuesday's Board of Curators meeting there was a discussion about a potential increase in tuition? What can you tell us about that? 

"I stated that we are exploring a modest increase, an increase that would be a little bit above the CPI, which is 2.3. And, we have an opportunity to go up to about 4.5 percent in tuition, but, we don't want to go to that level. We know that this is a hard time for many families. But, also at the same time we are looking at our funding...we are in need of new revenues to be able to deliver the type of educational programs that our students deserve."

Q: How are all the schools in the SEC communicating right now and making decisions? 

"The SEC presidents, chancellors, as well as athletic directors meet on a weekly basis. And, just like the university here, they're watching the local public health guidelines as well as the national guidelines from the CDC. And, I know I'm confident that they'll make a decision that is in the best interest of our student athletes."

Q: What can you share about the upcoming football season at MU?

"I hope it starts on time on September 5, that we will have a full stadium, that we would have COVID-19 under control. But, I also know that there can be a resurgence very quickly. We've seen that in other parts of the world. But, we're developing the testing capabilities and the contact tracing, working very closely with the Boone County Public Health Department. So, we are going to be in a position where we are prepared to address resurgence if they occur on the campus."