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Budget cuts could affect tuition at MU

Marshall
Feb. 25, 2013 @ 11:52 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Frustration about proposed state budget cuts to higher education spilled from Marshall University President Stephen Kopp and the university's board members on Monday.

Marshall's budget could take a $5.1 million loss in the amount of state money it receives in the coming budget year, based on budget reductions requested by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. This fiscal year, Marshall's appropriation was $57.1 million of a $193 million budget.

"In 2000 to 2002, there was about an $11 million cut and we kind of fought back," John Hess, a member of the university's Board of Governors, said at a board meeting Monday. "And now, to take a step backward, it's all going to fall on students' backs. That's who's going to pay for this."

Later, Kopp said if students were to make up for the proposed cuts in the state budget, they'd be asked to pay $700 more per year in tuition.

"Far more than we feel comfortable with," he added.

This year, West Virginia undergraduates are paying $2,965 per semester at Marshall. That was an increase from $2,824 per semester during the 2011-2012 school year.

After the meeting, Kopp said Marshall's responsibility is to serve the state and provide access to a college education, particularly to those from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. He said it's irresponsible for anyone to say they can do so without raising tuition in light of the state budget cut.

Kopp told the board it appears the administration in Charleston is dead set against imposing any tax increases. But, he said asking public higher education to absorb 46 percent of the $75 million in state budget cuts is unfair.

"The challenge we have before us is to try and influence through advocacy," Kopp said. "I can't understand a $75 million cut in a $4 billion budget with a $1 billion rainy day fund. I can't justify that."

One solution Kopp offered was to raise the 1 cent tax on soda to 5 cents, which could provide $80 million each year -- enough to fund the $70 million in state appropriations currently given to the state's three medical schools and use that money for other needs.

He clarified after the meeting that his point isn't to single out soda -- 1 additional cent on beer could generate an additional $11 million annually. He described himself as a solution finder and said there are options out there to deal with the budget crisis.

"When there is a public benefit, you support it publicly," Kopp said. "This is cost shifting, pure and simple. You are taking it from public support and shifting it to students and families."

The state budget won't be finalized until after the legislative session, which continues through April. That's a problem for Marshall because board members won't be able to approve a budget until their June meeting for the budget that begins July 1.

Chief Financial Officer Mary Ellen Heuton said a budget outline will be discussed at the April meeting that will be built around Tomblin's proposed state budget. She said it will include all options, including tuition increases.

The medical school also is facing a budget cut, from $19.7 million to about $18.5 million. The total budget for medical school is $44 million.

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