GUEST COMMENTARY: It's time to invest in the future of Missouri

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As college students, we often get criticized for thinking short-term, only caring about the next tailgate before a sporting event or ending up with a ticket from running late to class and parking in the wrong lot. For the most part, we are not going to deny that. It is also true that we do not always know what the future will hold in terms of our next job and post-graduation plans; we get reminded of that plenty when answering questions from our loved ones during school breaks. But in terms of the betterment of our state, we do know that the governor’s proposed budget prioritizes the short-term over the long-term climate of Missouri.

On Monday, after having some time to look over the governor’s proposed budget, we were joined by numerous other student leaders from all corners of our state in expressing our deep disappointment with the governor and his administration’s proposed fiscal year 2019 budget for higher education funding. The recommendation includes a $68.1 million — or 10 percent — reduction in higher education spending. This is on top of the well-publicized withholding in fiscal year 2017 and base cuts in fiscal year 2018.

Now, we are not asking for a “free college for all” plan that places no financial responsibility on the individual to pay for their education. We just simply don’t want to go backward in terms of funding for higher education in Missouri.

We want to make it known to the people of Missouri that public higher education is an unparalleled economic driver for states like ours. It is not an exaggeration to say that public higher education paves the way forthe American dream. It adds value to those who attend institutions of higher education and for those who benefit from the fruits of its labor.

At the beginning of this year, Amazon released the list of twenty cities named as finalists for its proposed HQ2, which will serve as the company’s second headquarters. St. Louis and Kansas City, however, were not among those. Both submitted thoughtful proposals in hopes of luring the $5 billion investment project and 50,000 jobs, but it’s no surprise to us that Missouri turned up empty-handed. Innovative companies don’t want to plant themselves in a state where education for innovators isn’t valued.

If we are going to attract businesses and more quality jobs, we need to invest in the education of our people. By 2020, 92 of the 100 highest paying occupations in Missouri will require at least a bachelor’s degree. If this budget proposal were implemented, we would be sacrificing the future and quality of higher education in Missouri, to the detriment of all Missourians.

Universities can’t do their part in meeting workforce demands without resources. If the governor’s budget proposal were implemented, it would place Missouri’s public universities in a position where they must continue cutting faculty and staff that are crucial to the programs that benefit our state.

Public universities have worked over the past couple of years to cut excess costs and become more efficient. We have reached a point, though, where hardworking students and their families are going to be the ones to bear the burden of the revenue shortfall. Steepening tuition and fees will be a gatekeeper for those who can — and cannot — realistically attain higher education.

The opportunities offered to the next generation to gain hands-on experience, work with diverse groups of individuals and engage in the community are truly invaluable. As students who come from all types of towns in Missouri, we can attest to the wide-ranging benefits of the college experience.

Each year, public universities train and shape the leaders and the workforce of our state’s future. It’s time to invest in them, and invest in Missouri. This is not a red or blue issue — it is about you, the people of Missouri and our future.

Nathan Willett is MU’s student body president. Payton Englert is MU’s student body vice president. Brandon McCoy is Missouri State’s student body president. Caitlin Schaefer is Missouri State’s student body vice president.

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