JEFFERSON CITY -A state commission to scrutinize the affordability of higher education in Missouri was the focus of discussion Thursday as legislators and educators convened in Jefferson City for the annual Governor's Conference on Higher Education.
As a response to concerns surrounding the steadily steepening prices and costs of the higher education process, the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education appointed - at the request of Gov. Mel Carnahan - the Missouri Commission on the Affordability of Higher Education.
The commission's duties entail a thorough investigation of Missouri's higher education affordability and a presentation of specific recommendations based on their findings to Carnahan in December of 1999. The 26-member committee will meet six times before submitting their December report.
The last such Missouri commission, with the affordability of higher education as an agenda-setter, was the 1970 Tucker Commission, of which Carnahan was a member.
"We must test ourselves by tackling the difficult questions," Carnahan said. "In doing so, we can reach our ultimate goal of achieving higher education that is accessible, efficient and of high quality."
The Missouri commission was preceded by the National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education earlier this summer. Chaired by William Troutt, president of Nashville's Belmont University, the commission strove to provide a clear picture of college costs and bring forth recommendations for keeping college affordable, Troutt said.
Troutt said the commission was concerned with the costs colleges face in providing education. As opposed to college tuitions for students and their families, which have been moderate in comparison, Troutt said costs have been anything but moderate. Soon, he said, tuition might have to pick up the slack.
"The concern, over time, is that if we can't do some things different to manage costs, will that ultimately increase price?" Troutt said. "You'd think that it would. That's the reason we're here."
In his keynote address during the conference luncheon, Carnahan recognized that the road to curtail costs for Missouri's higher education will be characterized by forks, and more importantly, choices.
"Becoming lean and mean will require some difficult decisions," Carnahan said. "Activities at our campuses that do not have a direct relationship to producing better prepared students must take the back seat."
A spokesman from the governor's office said Carnahan had not yet specified what these campus activities could be.
By organizing and appointing a state affordability committee on higher education, Missouri has set the precedent for responding to the national commission's recommendations, Troutt said.
"Missouri is off to a faced-paced start," he said. "We can't start to early. We must begin to save now, we must begin to learn now."