John Bardo has had better days.
Thursday ranked high as bad days go — for Bardo and for students at Wichita State University.
Bardo, the WSU president, recommended an 8.1 percent increase in tuition and fees starting this fall.
This comes after tuition increases of 5.9 percent, 8.5 percent, 5 percent, 6 percent and 4 percent in the past five years, the university said.
Four years ago, tuition and fees for 15 credit hours cost a WSU student $2,542.25 per semester. This fall, it will cost $3,463.25, if the Board of Regents approves the proposed increase when it meets June 19 and 20.
“The issues I’m facing here are pretty stiff,” Bardo said.
Earlier this week, the state Legislature passed a $14.5 billion state budget for fiscal 2014 and 2015 that included a 1.5 percent cut to higher education each year. It also trimmed state money for university salaries. House Republican leaders said last month that rising tuition rates have put a burden on Kansas families and that universities need to be more accountable for their budgets.
All state universities proposed tuition and fee increases to the Kansas Board of Regents on Thursday.
Wichita State’s proposed increase is the largest. The University of Kansas proposed a 4.4 percent increase for undergraduates; it would not apply to students who locked in tuition rates their freshman year. Kansas State proposed a 6.7 percent increase for undergraduates.
WSU’s proposal states that the tuition increases would give the university $4.8 million in additional revenue for fiscal 2014. Nearly $2 million would go toward offsetting state budget cuts, and $2.6 million would go toward a 4 percent salary increase for faculty and unclassified personnel.
Bardo plans to set aside a pool large enough to give faculty a 4 percent raise. The raises will be for merit, and not across the board, so some “superstar” faculty could get a lot more and some will get less, Bardo said.
It was either that or risk losing faculty and failing to fill vacant positions, he said.
In most years, deciding on a salary increase while boosting tuition would be a terrible idea. “But many of these faculty have stayed in their jobs and stayed loyal to WSU through five years of no raises,” Bardo said. “We had to have some movement there.”
Given years of state budget cuts, he didn’t have a choice, he said.
Bardo described WSU’s financial situation as serious and getting more serious every year. A lot of WSU job searches to fill vacant positions were failing for lack of money. He worried about retaining great teachers he has.
Robert Ross, an associate professor of marketing and Faculty Senate president at WSU, said Bardo had to do what he did to protect WSU’s most valuable assets. As one example, he said that one out of five WSU graduate students attends the college of engineering. Yet nearly 25 percent of the teaching positions in that college are vacant.
“No one here wants to put the students in a wringer, we are very sensitive to that,” Ross said. “I am delighted to see John press for an increase (for the faculty), because we need to continue to invest in them. But I’m very well aware that this is hard on our students.”
He’s right about that, according to Omar Ali, 22, one of the aerospace engineering students who might benefit from having more faculty. When he heard what it was going to cost him, Ali said, “I don’t like that.”
He takes out loans “if I’m short on money,” Ali said. “It’s not just tuition. You need books, notebooks, those kinds of things.”
Engineering isn’t the only area of concern. Other universities compete with WSU to hire good faculty, Bardo said. A good business school dean can ask for $250,000, he said. A business school teacher can ask for $100,000. WSU can’t afford to fail in hiring in a job market like that, he said. “The money has to come from somewhere.”
An increased burden
Some of the students who will pay for it were not pleased.
Brianna Kitchings, a 21-year-old senior majoring in early childhood development/education, said Bardo’s predecessor, Don Beggs, seemed to have more success keeping tuition increases minimal. “I can understand why it might be frustrating for some students,” Kitchings said.
Anna Barrera-Macal, a 21-year-old junior in elementary education, said the increases will probably mean another student loan. She said she has borrowed about $15,000 and will probably have to take out another $3,000 to $5,000 to cover the tuition and fee increase.
She works part time at the Starlite Drive-In on South Hydraulic to help pay for college. She lives at home rent-free but said she doesn’t get other financial support from her family.
Amber Lockner, 24, said she recently arrived on campus and will start taking classes Monday in preparation for medical school. She said she’ll be at WSU for only one year, but she said she thought the increase “would probably increase the burden on low-income students.” She said she plans to finance her education at WSU through federal loans.
Julie Lane, a 49-year-old senior in English, said she was OK with the increase “because I want real professors, not teaching assistants or adjuncts. If I wanted that kind of an education, I’d go to a community college and get it a lot cheaper. I’ll pay more for a higher quality education.”
Lane said she is a non-traditional student. She’s earning her degree while working in the computer tech industry. She said her son just finished his freshman year at Kansas State.
“He had some very excellent professors, and I would hate to see that change.” Lane said if the quality of her son’s education decreases, she would consider moving him to a community college and paying less in tuition.
“I think the real problem is state government,” Lane said. “Our elected officials no longer prioritize public education. They’re transferring its cost to middle-income and low-income people. If the problem is not solved, the quality of our education is going to go down.”
Even with the proposed increase in tuition, Bardo says he is cutting things he wanted badly to do. He wanted to create a much more high-profile “tech transfer” effort, using WSU faculty and students to help businesses create innovations and jobs. That effort will be cut back, he said. He wanted to spend more to help struggling freshmen stay in school; that is being cut. He wanted to create a technology park. On hold now, he said.
One of the worst bits of news is that this tuition and fee increase doesn’t head off another increase next year.
“I’m just trying to get us down the road for this year,” Bardo said.