In January, St. Louis television station KMOV (Channel 4) aired concerns in an editorial segment about the cost of education at the University of Missouri. In particular, the piece focused on the prices of textbooks and housing. I share this concern for the accessibility of higher education, and continuing to ensure affordability at Mizzou has been a major priority for me since I joined the university in August.
During the fall semester alone, we signed a number of major scholarship initiatives. The Missouri Land Grant allows Pell Grant-eligible students who qualify for admission to attend the university tuition-free (honors students also will receive free room and board). This year, more than 700 students from rural Missouri have received Pell Grants here at Mizzou. From Camden to Pemiscot to Gentry and beyond, we are proud to serve communities across Missouri by working to ensure everyone has access to higher education. A new ROTC scholarship will also cover room and board for freshmen who have won a national scholarship from the Army, Air Force, Navy or Marines.
Beyond our tuition-related efforts, the UM System recently introduced Affordable and Open Educational Resources, which include free open-source textbooks and other low-cost materials. Through AutoAccess, a program that provides students with low-cost digital course materials, McGraw-Hill Education now offers its entire eBook textbook catalog for $40 or less. The Open Textbook Library also contains an ever-expanding catalog of free textbooks that teachers or students can download with ease. We are recognized nationally for our array of used, rental and digital options, which save students millions of dollars each year.
Of course, making textbooks more economical is not just about saving students money. It’s also about ensuring access to high-quality course materials. We know students will look for alternatives when faced with steep costs: They might buy outdated or dubious materials or simply go without textbooks entirely. Our mission is to educate students, not to encourage them to look for subpar options.
In addition, Mizzou is introducing new low-cost housing and dining plans, which allow students to live and eat on campus for less than $1,000 per month. Dining plans have been overhauled to more accurately suit the needs of students, making for a more practical and cost-effective array of options. While students are free to choose costlier options on or off campus, we are committed to offering housing and dining plans that meet their needs while remaining economical.
As a result of these efforts and more, Mizzou is more affordable than ever. In fact, 45 percent of our students graduate with no debt, while those who do have debt borrow 25 percent less than the national average for their college education.
Paying for college is not a matter any working family or individual takes lightly, and I know firsthand the importance of an affordable, accessible education: Like so many others, I paid for attending community college — and then university — with wages I earned from various minimum-wage jobs. I believe strongly that wealth should not act as the gatekeeper to higher education, and at Mizzou, every new decision or initiative follows through on that principle.
A college diploma, after all, is more than a name on a certificate or a checked box on a résumé. Education provides people with options, many of which they might not have considered before. That happened to me, and it made me realize that if cost restricts access to education, then it also restricts opportunity. That’s not something Mizzou, as a land-grant university, should ever endorse. Along with so many others at Mizzou, I’m committed to ensuring Missourians have affordable access to the wealth of opportunity a high-quality college education can afford.
As someone who paid my way through college by working and leveraging student grants, scholarships and loans, I understand KMOV’s concerns and those of parents and students who bear the burden of covering those costs. But if you take a look at what is happening at Mizzou, you’ll see we are creating options that allow students to focus less on finances and more on what is most important: their education.
Alexander N. Cartwright is the chancellor of the University of Missouri.