Regents approve tuition hikes
By JOHN HANNA
TOPEKA -- Students at Kansas' public universities will pay higher tuition this fall -- some almost 9 percent more -- under proposals unanimously approved Wednesday by the state Board of Regents in response to legislative cuts in higher education funding.
The tuition hikes are expected to raise $34 million during the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The regents and university officials have complained repeatedly during the past decade that tight state funding for higher education has pushed them to raise student costs.
At Fort Hays State University, tuition for all classes of students will rise approximately 3.4 percent. President Ed Hammond said FHSU could have avoided any increases if the Legislature hadn't pushed through the funding cuts. He said the cuts will force his university to delay the start of a new software engineering program.
"We went out and raised the money -- are building the building for it -- but now we don't have the resources to finish hiring the faculty," Hammond said.
The fall increases partially will offset funding cuts the Republican-dominated Legislature approved this year despite the objections of GOP Gov. Sam Brownback.
However, the universities also plan to give their professors modest pay raises, in the hopes they will help the schools retain senior faculty, and the tuition increase also will help schools cover higher administrative costs and pursue other initiatives.
"I hate to do it, but the Legislature is forcing us to do this," said Regent Dan Lykins, a Topeka attorney.
On Thursday, the Regents also announced pay increases for the six top university administrators, ranging from 2.4 percent to 15 percent.
Brownback had proposed keeping state funding for higher education flat during each of the next two fiscal years.
According to the regents, however, lawmakers enacted reductions from current spending that total $44 million during those two years, with the bulk coming from universities' budgets. In each of the next two fiscal years, state funding will be almost 3 percent less than it is now.
The regents made a point of calculating how much of each university's tuition increase could be attributed to the budget cuts. In most cases, it represented the bulk of the increase, and for the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., the entire increase fell short of making up for the budget reductions.
"There's a clear decision that has to be made: Do you want a state that's a great state that moves forward, or do you want to live in a state that's a backwater?" said Regent Fred Logan of Leawood, a former Kansas Republican Party chairman.
But some conservative Republican legislators have questioned whether the universities are operating efficiently and see the reductions as a way to force them to look for administrative savings. They've criticized higher education officials for resorting to annual tuition increases to fill budget gaps.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, a conservative Newton Republican, noted the regents have approved tuition increases that far exceed inflation during the past 10 years. As for their argument legislators are to blame this year, he said, "I'm not buying it."
"My answer is 'bologna!' " Rhoades wrote in a brief statement sent by iPhone.
The ongoing debate about higher education funding also comes as Brownback and many fellow Republicans pursue a shared goal of eventually phasing out the state's personal income tax as a way to try to stimulate the economy.
Eli Schooley, student body president at Kansas State University, said the Legislature's budget decisions show it doesn't place a high enough priority on education.
As for the income tax reductions, he said, "If you're raising tuition that much at public universities around the state, then it's not really much of a tax cut at all."
As for students and their families, out-of-state graduate students at Pittsburg State University would see the biggest increase, at 8.8 percent. The smallest increase, 3 percent, would be for out-of-state veterinary medical students at Kansas State University.
For undergraduates from Kansas, tuition would increase nearly 5 percent at the University of Kansas, so someone taking a full course load would pay $4,198 in tuition and fees for a semester. However, most of its students have entered into compacts that guarantee their tuition rates for four years, so they wouldn't be affected. The new rate for new students entering into such a compact would be $4,613 a semester.
At Kansas State University, tuition for state-resident undergraduates would increase 7 percent, so someone taking 15 hours of courses would pay $3,915 a semester in tuition on its Manhattan campus and $3,707 on its Salina campus.