TOPEKA — State universities will get more of their money from tuition than from taxation for the first time, following a round of tuition increases Thursday.
The Legislature is providing $567 million to the six state universities for the 2012 budget year, while tuition is estimated to generate $591 million, officials reported at Thursday's Board of Regents meeting.
Unhappy regents voted unanimously to raise tuition by 4 to 6.9 percent at state universities.
They said they are concerned about keeping higher education affordable, but tuition hikes are the only way to maintain the quality of the university system in the face of dwindling state funding.
"The state of Kansas has decided — just not last year or the year before, but over the last 15 years — that we're not going to fund higher education like we did in the past," said Regent Dan Lykins of Topeka. "It's going to have to come from someplace else."
Regents were particularly smarting over cuts handed down by the Legislature this spring.
The board's vice president of finance and administration, Diane Duffy, outlined the problem Thursday.
"The state general fund reduction was roughly $10.7 million and the budgeted increases were nearly $13.2 million," she said, adding that the spending increases are mostly unavoidable.
"The (increase in) group health insurance alone is $10.5 million," Duffy said.
The tuition hike is expected to generate about $26 million — $2 million more than the amount needed to cover cuts and mandatory spending increases, she said.
Increases for resident undergraduate tuition range from 4 percent at Kansas State and Fort Hays State universities to 6.9 percent at Emporia State.
Other increases: Wichita State, 6 percent; Pittsburg State, 6.8 percent; and University of Kansas main campus, 6.2 percent.
Impact of hike
The board's action will increase undergraduate tuition at Wichita State University from $2,361 a semester to $2502.75, a difference of $141.75.
Those are the official numbers, but the out-of-pocket impact on WSU students will be more.
Last year, the university used some of its federal stimulus money to offset tuition increases approved for 2010. That money's gone now.
The stimulus subsidy last year was $5.50 a credit hour, university officials said.
A student carrying the standard course load of 15 credit hours will pay this year's increase, plus $82.50 from the lost stimulus subsidy, plus an increase of $9.75 in mandatory student fees for a total increase of $234 a semester.
WSU President Don Beggs said the university is putting more money into scholarships "so we can keep quality students in Kansas."
Students and parents expressed frustration and helplessness in the face of the increases.
"I lost my job two weeks ago and I don't get unemployment because I'm in school," said Michelle Wheeler of Andover, a WSU student. She's a divorced mother and hasn't been able to find a scholarship for someone in her situation. She said students had to enroll for the fall back in April with no idea how much tuition would be.
"I think a lot of people will have to drop classes," she said, adding that her nephews were going to start out at a community college because it's cheaper.
In her situation, she said, "What are you going to do? You're halfway through your degree."
Kari O'Halloran, who will have a freshman and a senior at K-State this fall, had a similar reaction.
"What are you going to do about it? Your kids have to go to college," she said.
"They're getting out of college with debt, but how can you go to college without having debt? They have to have education to have a job."
At the University of Kansas, about 65 percent of undergraduates won't have to pay the tuition increase because of a unique compact program. Under it, incoming freshmen can agree to pay higher tuition up front but are guaranteed it won't rise for four years.
The final cost works out about the same, but KU officials say it makes planning easier for students and insulates them from unexpected increases.
Reactions to cuts
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said the criticism directed at the Legislature is misplaced.
"Regents received $753 million for 2011. For 2012, they receive $744 million, plus $10 million for engineering programs, as requested," Rhoades said in a written response to Eagle questions. "In a tough year, no one received as much as they wanted."
Regents officials said the $744 million Rhoades cited represents money to fund the entire regents system, not just the universities.
In addition to the $567 million in general fund support for the six state universities, the larger figure covers state support to 19 community colleges, 11 technical schools and Washburn University, which receives some state money.
"Three years ago, $100 million was cut from higher education and we never got that back," Lykins said. "This year we got another cut.... The question is, who should pay when the state is not paying? And they aren't going to pay. We've heard from the budget director, (for) the next five years, higher education is going to have a flat budget. We're not going to get any raises."
Regent Christine Downey-Schmidt said the only choice was to raise tuition.
"It seems like we used to have a partner in this process and they have left," she said of the Legislature. "I wish we didn't have to do this. We've looked at other options, we've pushed for efficiencies, we've advocated with legislators, but this is the option we have left until our partners come back."
Rhoades, however, said increasing tuition is "a regrettable decision" by the regents and he doesn't think they've tapped the full potential of cost cuts that could be made.
"The KU chancellor said recently, in addition to increases in health insurance and utilities, one reason for increasing tuition would be for raises to top faculty," Rhoades said. "Higher ed tuition and fees outpace the consumer price index nearly four to one — more than increases in food, housing and medical care. Why is that?
"Businesses are forced to do with less and find efficiencies. Right now a lot of Kansans would just love to have a job, let alone one with health insurance and a raise."
Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said that when she started in the Legislature in 2001, the rule of thumb was that a state should fund its universities about 75 percent from general funds and 25 percent from tuition.
At the time, Kansas was about 60-40. She said at one point, it reached 64-36 before economic conditions forced the state to reduce its support and rely more on tuition.
Now that it's 51 percent tuition to 49 percent state support, "that's huge," she said.
"I understand their frustration," she said. "I'm frustrated. I can understand how hopeless it looks."
But she said there's not much the state can do about it when revenue is down because of the recession.
"To me, it's not because the state just wants to slash universities," she said. "We've slashed everything. It (this session) was the hardest year I've ever had and everybody else had because of the revenue cuts. There are no bells and whistles or tricks that we were able to do in the past. It was just cutting programs because we couldn't find the money."