K-State, WSU likely to see tuition hikes

University presidents have done unpleasant things in Kansas in the last two bleak budget years. Cut budgets, hiked costs for students.

More are coming.

Wichita State University president Don Beggs said Wednesday that he will soon recommend to the state Board of Regents another tuition increase at WSU, beyond the one last year of 8.5 percent. This one, he hopes, will be less than 6 percent, but won't say how much. He does say it will hurt everyone.

Kirk Schulz, president of Kansas State University, says he's going to recommend a 3 percent increase, with additional credit hour fees of $10 an hour. And that hurts, too.

Both presidents, visiting the Wichita Eagle editorial offices Wednesday, said the state Legislature — which will debate university budgets in the next few weeks — can't keep cutting their budgets like they are year after year without long-term damage, not just to the universities but to the economic health of the state.

They listed their losses over the past two years caused by massive state budget cuts.

K-State has 5,500 employees, down 200 from two years ago; WSU has 1,400, down 90.

K-State has cut $15 million to $18 million from its budget in the past two years; WSU has cut $9 million. Meanwhile, expenses have gone up.

Like other higher education leaders around the country, Schulz said, they are trying to warn everyone that in a country where we long ago gave away a lot of manufacturing jobs, we can't afford to cut the one big thing we've got left — our inventiveness in entrepreneurship, much of which comes from the ideas cooked up in the nation's universities.

This was never just about keeping faculty, both men said; it's about jobs and economic growth.

Universities like K-State used to be called state universities but now they are more accurately merely "state assisted," Schulz said. Beggs, hearing him say this, cracked a rueful joke: "We've actually gone from being state assisted to being state located."

Schulz winced, and said he was right.

"We are trying to warn people that we can't keep leveraging dollars the way we've been doing," Beggs said.

With businesses hurting and many taxpayers opposing tax increases to offset losses caused by the recession, it's hard for universities to persuade some people to listen to their voices of warning, the two said. But those warnings need to be heeded, they said.

"Wherever you see entrepreneurship, such as in Boston or in the Silicon Valley, your world-class universities are involved in it," Schulz said. "If you've got some sort of widget that you want to make, (and which would create jobs) it's a lot easier to get it done in Boston or the Silicon Valley.

"People in the Midwest are much more risk-averse," Schulz said. "I'm not hacking on Kansas as a state, but it's just a fact that people are more risk-adverse here."