Funding Goes AWOL So UMSL Fills the Bill; Campus Comes Up with Cash for Science Buildings after State Agency Comes Up Short

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The University of Missouri-St. Louis has finally given up on the state's stalled plan to use money from its student loan authority to pay for campus improvements.

Instead, the school will look elsewhere to jump-start the long- planned renovation of its worn-out Benton-Stadler science complex, picked five years ago to receive nearly $30 million from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority.

"We're still listed to receive the money for that. But we just can't wait forever," said Thomas George, UMSL's chancellor.

Indeed, there seems to be little reason to believe that money - part of $105 million still owed to the state - will ever find its way to UMSL.

The original plan, envisioned by former Gov. Matt Blunt and put into law in 2007, called for the loan authority to pay the state $350 million over six years to support a series of capital projects on campuses across the state. The so-called Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative was put into motion at a time when the economy was strong and the authority was flush with growing assets.

Things got off to a great start when the organization made an initial bulk payment of $230 million in September 2007. That was supposed to be followed by a series of quarterly payments until the balance was paid. But by mid-2008, with the economy faltering, the plan sputtered and MOHELA was forced to suspend payments.

While the money was flowing, it funded a range of projects, including $16 million for a child and parent education center at Harris-Stowe State University; $24 million for a plant biology center at Northwest Missouri State University; and $30 million for science and math halls at Missouri Western State University.

The state's flagship University of Missouri system didn't fare so well. Of the $114 million the system was supposed to get, it received just $40.3 million. And in the current political and financial environment, there's not much optimism that things are going to change.

"It doesn't appear to be anyone's priority," said Nikki Krawitz, the system's vice president of finance.

It's not so much that MOHELA has no money to spare, but rather that the state - and Gov. Jay Nixon - have found other uses for the loan authority's surpluses. Even though the quarterly payments have stopped, MOHELA gave the state more than $60 million to help offset budget deficits in 2010 and 2011. And the organization has set aside $5 million for 2012.

Essentially, money that could have gone to capital improvements was used to bolster Access Missouri - the program that supports lower- and middle-income students - after it was gutted in Nixon's budgets.

"There were multiple needs. We couldn't do both," said Will Shaffner, MOHELA's director of business development and governmental relations. …