Governor’s Higher Education Proposals Win High Marks from Southeast Leader

Photo of Dr. Kenneth W. Dobbins

Dr. Kenneth W. Dobbins is the president of Southeast Missouri State University.

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Jan. 25, 2007 — Three higher education proposals included by Gov. Matt Blunt in his “State of the State” message last night receive high marks from Dr. Kenneth W. Dobbins, president of Southeast Missouri State University.

Those proposals include a new need-based aid plan, increases in operating appropriations, and the Lewis and Clark Initiative for capital improvements.

Dobbins said hundreds of Southeast students will benefit if the General Assembly enacts the Governor’s plan to dramatically increase funding for need-based financial aid for college students and to revise the formula for distributing that aid.

“The addition of $45 million in aid to the present $27.5 million is large enough to make a substantial difference for needy students, and the revised formula would truly provide financial aid for students with the most need at all institutions, because it will be calculated on the basis of the expected family contribution,” the president said.

“In the past, the very limited need-based aid was distributed according to a formula which all but excluded participation by students at institutions like Southeast which had been successful in limiting tuition costs. The proposed new formula corrects that imbalance,” he said.

Preliminary data indicate that under the Governor’s new plan, almost 1,900 Missouri resident undergraduate students at Southeast would be eligible for the state’s need based aid. This would be over 24 percent of all Missouri undergraduates attending Southeast, compared to only 300 – about 4 percent — who are eligible for the current Gallagher and College Guarantee Program grants, Dobbins said.

Further, he said, the entire Southeast community will benefit if the Governor’s proposal for a significant increase in operating appropriation is adopted. Students, he said, will be the ultimate beneficiaries because the proposed increase of 4.2 percent in appropriations for Southeast would help the University continue minimizing tuition increases while providing academic programs of high quality at reasonable cost.

The increase in operating appropriations is especially welcome, Dobbins said, since higher education received significant decreases in appropriations from 2002 through 2004, and only limited increases the last two years, with appropriations still well below the 2001 level.

“We understand that a dip in the economy caused the shortfall in state funding, but now that the state revenue picture is improving we appreciate the Governor’s effort to make funding for education a priority,” Dobbins said.

Dobbins said a third part of the Governor’s proposal – the Lewis and Clark Initiative – is desperately needed by public higher education institutions throughout Missouri.  This proposal would use funds to be provided by the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA) to pay for long-deferred construction and renovation projects on Missouri campuses. Use of funds from MOHELA will not have a negative impact on that agency’s ability to provide loans for students, Dobbins said. He pointed out that MOHELA was just given the highest Moody rating of AAA on bonds that organization is currently in the process of issuing.

For Southeast, the Lewis and Clark Initiative includes $17.2 million to complete the state’s share of funding for the River Campus in Cape Girardeau and $4.5 million for a life science business incubator at the University’s new research park on I-55.

Dobbins said both of these projects will have a positive impact on the region’s economy. The River Campus will improve the cultural life of the area and contribute to redevelopment of Cape Girardeau’s historic downtown area. But he said the School of Visual and Performing Arts is also expected to increase Southeast’s enrollment by 300 to 400 students in the coming years, and this will have a direct economic benefit of $3 million to $4 million each year, according to economic impact studies.

If the Lewis and Clark Initiative is approved, the life science incubator will be one of the first buildings to be constructed in the research park, Dobbins said.

“This will expand job opportunities in the region for our graduates and will provide internship opportunities in the sciences for our students,” he continued.

“We hope the Legislature will act favorably on these three vital gubernatorial initiatives,” Dobbins concluded.