June 20, 2014

Eagle editorial: Tuition keeps climbing

If the reaction to the state universities’ latest tuition increases is relief rather than outcry, that’s sadly telling.

If the reaction to the state universities’ latest tuition increases is relief rather than outcry, that’s sadly telling.

Raising tuition has become a late-spring ritual in Kansas, and this year’s hike could have been far worse than the average 4.7 percent higher tuition and fees unanimously approved Wednesday by the Kansas Board of Regents.

Board chairman Fred Logan said that overall the increases were the smallest since 2001.

For resident undergraduates, tuition and fees will rise 4.9 percent at Wichita State University, 3.4 percent (freshmen only) at the University of Kansas, 5.2 percent at Kansas State, 5.6 percent at Emporia State, 5.5 percent at Pittsburg State and 2.5 percent at Fort Hays State.

“These are restrained and the universities have done a good job,” Logan said.

But restraint is in the eye of the student and parent paying the tab, either this fall or by chipping away at loan balances for years to come.

And how many Kansans saw their paychecks or business receipts grow by 5.6 percent over the past year? Or even 2.5 percent?

You can’t really blame the university administrators – though that won’t stop some state lawmakers from trying.

Costs keep rising, along with expectations that regents universities conduct cutting-edge research and attract and keep big-name faculty. The institutions’ leaders have had to turn to students, as well as private sources, to offset declines in state funding. Before the latest vote, average tuition at regents institutions had risen more than 155 percent over 12 years.

Regents noted Wednesday that the universities had identified budget savings of nearly $7 million in tandem with the tuition increases, which will provide a total $29 million more revenue. The schools will need to continue to be resourceful: Fort Hays State, for example, credits the two wind turbines it installed last year with saving nearly $1 million while producing 80 percent of the campus’ power.

Meanwhile, for all the fears expressed by The Eagle editorial board and others over the years about pricing Kansans out of their own university system, enrollments haven’t suffered much overall.

The Legislature gets credit for restoring some money to universities for fiscal 2015 that it had imprudently cut. But the regents and university leaders are right to be worried about how the state’s declining revenues will affect higher education. Such concerns led Moody’s Investors Service to cut the debt rating last month for both KU and Emporia State, shortly after it also downgraded the state’s rating.

Viewed across recent decades, the state university system in Kansas appears to be in a slow-motion slide into privatization in which users pay ever more as taxpayers pay the same or less. Kansas leaders seem to be OK with that. Are Kansans?

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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