Tim Wolfe is the 23rd President of the University of Missouri System, which includes Mizzou in Columbia, University of Missouri-Kansas City, University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. Mr. Wolfe’s priorities since coming to the University of Missouri System in 2012 have included “increasing overall awareness of the role the system’s four campuses play in advancing the education, economy, health, innovation, arts, culture and the overall quality of life across the state of Missouri.” He is “a recognized leader in recruiting, building and leading successful teams by creating innovative strategies and clear execution plans across complex enterprises.”
What follows is an interview the LCL Editorial Department conducted with Mr. Wolfe this past Tuesday.
LCL: How is the University of Missouri Extension changing to meet the changing needs and concerns of our residents, and specifically our farmers?
Tim Wolfe: The University of Missouri System’s goal is to touch every person in the state every day; our mission statement is about positively impacting every citizen in Missouri, not just the 75,000 students on our three campuses. The University of Missouri System was originally established to get the wonderful research we do, primarily in the agricultural sector, to those who can use it as they go about their jobs day in and day out. The Extension Office is the outreach point to farmers and ranchers in Linn County. It serves livestock producers and farmers in Linn County every day through its agricultural research stations and, specifically, the Forage Systems Research Farm.
LCL: What does the University of Missouri System have to offer nontraditional, non-degree-seeking students?
Tim Wolfe: We have over 1400 classes and over 100 degree programs that are available from our four campuses, and we have a portal where you can go to see what our offerings are on each of the four campuses. Many of our classes are available online, precluding the necessity of having to travel to one of our campuses. In addition to that, we have quite a few blended classes, which are a combination of distance learning, online, and traditional in-person offerings. Our online program is growing three times faster than the marketplace, both in terms of the number of students enrolling and the number of credit hours we offer. It is a great way to serve those who are continuous, lifelong learners or those who just want to acquire additional skills that will make them more competitive in their current roles, or more competitive in the marketplace if they are looking to make a change in employment. Those classes are being made available to the working age adult as well as to high school students, in some instances for college credit. We are trying to touch all six million Missourians by giving as many continuous learning opportunities as possible to as many of our state’s residents as possible.
LCL: Is there anything that can be done to make college more affordable?
Tim Wolfe: There is, and we have been doing that. Let me give you a snapshot of where we‘re at in terms of college affordability. Four-year institutions, as well as two-year institutions, in Missouri have had the lowest increase, on a percentage basis, in tuition of any state in the United States. We have kept tuition low. Ours is around two percent over the past five years. If you compare our average tuition increase over the past five years to surrounding states, they average about six percent. We are constantly looking at affordability as well as market competitiveness in terms of our tuition price. Just recently, I looked at where we’re at. We’re significantly below the national average in terms of tuition for both public and private institutions. We’re below average among both Big 12 and SEC schools. So our tuition rate is very competitive when compared to that of our peers. In addition to that, we’re focusing on net price, which is not the retail price but is the price students actually pay. We have found that eight out of 10 students have some form of financial aid, and the actual net price that a typical student would pay is around half of that retail price. So, we’re working at trying to continue to make the University of Missouri System as affordable and accessible as possible.
One thing that you need to appreciate is that over time, the reason for the tuition increase, almost on a dollar for dollar basis, is related to the decrease, over the same period of time, in state funding. In fact, when you look at the cost to educate a typical student on any of our four campuses, it’s been flat over time. We have been forced, and appropriately so, to be more efficient. But through that efficiency of educating our students we’ve needed to maintain quality. When you look at the quality statistics, in terms of the number of graduates and the number of students we retain from their freshman year through their senior year, the percentage of under-served minorities, the quality of student learning as measured by ACT scores; all of those indicators are trending in a positive direction. So, we’ve become efficient, but we’ve maintained effectiveness as measured by our quality statistics. This is a never-ending challenge that we’ve got because again, back to our mission statement—which is that our purpose and our challenge is to make college affordable and to allow every single high school graduate in the state of Missouri that has the academic qualifications and the passion to attend at one of our four campuses the opportunity to do so.