Some college students will be digging deeper into their pockets after the Kansas Board of Regents approved a total of $36 million in tuition increases for universities across the state.
Regents approved 2016-17 tuition increases ranging from 4.9 to 6 percent for 2017 at six universities: Emporia State, Fort Hays State, the University of Kansas, Kansas State, Pittsburg State and Wichita State.
The increased rates come a month after Gov. Sam Brownback announced higher education cuts of about $30.6 million, or 4 percent. The University of Kansas and Kansas State saw cuts of $10.7 million and $7 million, respectively. Wichita State had a cut of $2.8 million.
Five of the six universities raised their initial tuition proposals after the cuts. Wichita State’s tuition proposal remained the same.
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Wichita State president John Bardo told the regents that tuition increases would cover state cuts and provide $1 million to help pay for increasing operational costs.
“If the Legislature had the money and was willing to allocate it, I would be the first person to recommend that we either not have a tuition increase or have a reduction of tuition,” Bardo told the board.
Multiple university presidents, including Bardo, cited the need to offer competitive salaries to faculty members as one reason for the tuition increases. Bardo said WSU faces global competition for engineering professors.
Regent Ann Brandau-Murguia criticized universities for prioritizing faculty salaries and operations over affordability. She said the tuition increases aren’t fair to students who can’t afford to attend.
“Obviously, if I could afford to go to college and pay for it and (tuition) wasn’t an issue, I wouldn’t have an objection to paying the staff more,” Brandau-Murguia said. “But if it’s a decision of whether we can go or not, I wonder if we could survey all the kids that can’t go.”
Although he wants to keep tuition costs low, Bardo said, the increase is needed to ensure the university maintains a quality education for its students.
“Access without quality is no bargain. You can get a piece of paper, but it depends what’s behind that piece of paper,” Bardo said about university degrees after the board approved the tuition hike. “What we are trying to do is maintain quality at a time when we are financially stressed due to both budget cuts and increasing costs.”
The regents took no action on a WSU proposal to offer in-state tuition to students from the Missouri side of the Kansas City area, a policy Bardo said would improve the university’s recruitment efforts in the I-35 corridor.
The regents said the state pays for 44 percent of university costs and students cover 56 percent.
Joseph Shepard, student government president at Wichita State, said he thinks the increased tuition will have an adverse effect on student enrollment.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of students who are not going to be able to afford it,” Shepard said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of students leaving Wichita State University, going part time instead of full time, and I think we’re going to see a decrease in enrollment, unfortunately.”
Shepard said his main goal is to keep students informed of the changes and to make sure the university invests its revenue back into the students.
Jessica Van Ranken, student body president at Kansas State University, said the increases are unfortunate but necessary when state funding falls short.
“Rising tuition at Kansas State will always have a negative impact on K-State students who work to pay for their valuable college education,” Van Ranken wrote in an e-mail. “As K-State constantly strives to balance access and excellence while funding sources diminish, tuition rate increases become an unfortunate necessity to balance the budget.”
Shepard said it is a difficult situation but that the universities don’t have much of a choice.
“We don’t want to see it happen, but it’s going to happen,” he said.
Lara Korte: 316-268-6290, firstname.lastname@example.org
Numbers reflect increases for undergraduate students who are residents of Kansas.
Fort Hays State
Source: Kansas Board of Regents