Students attending Wichita State University this fall may pay nearly 5 percent more in tuition and fees depending on the Legislature’s agreements with the Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees state universities.
For the 2014-2015 school year, resident undergraduates taking 15 credit hours at Wichita State paid $2,934.75 in tuition and $698.25 in required fees per semester – a 17 percent increase since 2012. Those figures do not include housing, parking, food, books or various course fees.
The Legislature has cut general funds to Wichita State about 4 percent in the same time period, according to Wichita State data.
The potential increases come as state lawmakers face budget woes, including a $406 million deficit starting July 1.
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Andy Schlapp, WSU’s executive director of government relations, said legislators have talked about capping tuition increases in recent days, even though they understand that universities are integral to job growth and need money to help the state make money.
Schlapp countered that by telling legislators that tuition caps would cut Kansas universities’ ability to invest in themselves, including things like Wichita State’s Innovation Campus.
Schlapp and others pitched a proposal to legislators on Thursday that, if passed, he said, would allow universities to raise tuition as much as the inflation rate – roughly 1.5 to 2 percent now – and perhaps another 1.5 to 2 percent beyond that. It might mean a tuition increase of anywhere from 4 to 4.5 percent, he said. The proposal would apply to all regents schools.
Fee amounts are still unknown.
That limit, under the tentative plan, would apply only to tuition and not to other expenses, Schlapp said, and universities, if they have needs, can cut staff or raise revenue from sources other than tuition, such as fees.
“What we’ve told legislators is, ‘Look, we understand, there’s no money, and we understand that parents and students are concerned about tuition. But Kansas is not a high tuition state,’” and WSU has to pay its bills, and find ways to grow “and differentiate itself from thousands of other universities.”
If passed, that plan would have to be approved by the regents, “and they have their own ideas about how to grow the universities,” Schlapp said.
The Legislature has to act first. And that’s problematic this session.
“We all like to control things, but the Legislature is a great opportunity to learn that you are not in control of anything. The Legislature takes on its own reality.”
The regents have their own tentative timeline to get the university budgets set for the coming year. They’ve set June 1 as the date for a special meeting to do a first reading of university requests for tuition and fee increases, said Breeze Richardson, regents spokesperson.
But if the Legislature doesn’t decide on the state budget by Friday, the regents will set a special meeting for June 8, she said.
A ‘debt sentence’
For Wichita State’s class of 2013, the average debt per student was $23,666, with 63 percent of graduates taking on debt, according to the Institute for College Access and Success’ Project on Student Debt. Statewide, the average debt for that year was $26,229, with 65 percent of graduates taking on debt.
Compared with other states, Kansas was in the middle of the pack for the amount of debt taken on by students, but ranked 15th in the nation for proportion of students taking on debt.
“I understand sometimes you have to have increases to make ends meet, but we have to consider how it will affect the students,” said WSU student body president Joseph Shepard, a senior majoring in criminal justice.
“Education should be a privilege, not a debt sentence,” Shepard said. He hopes the Legislature and regents keep that in mind when setting the rates.
Financial aid doesn’t cover all expenses for most students, Shepard said. And the loans themselves can be difficult for some students to pay back if they don’t have a good job after college. Millennials have higher rates of unemployment than other age groups, but those numbers are slowly improving, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Loans that students take must be paid back with interest, further increasing the real cost of college. According to the U.S. Department of Education, those interest rates range from 4.29 percent to 7.21 percent for federal loans disbursed after July 1, 2014. Newer federal loans also have a fee of 1.073 percent to 4.292 percent. Those rates are set by Congress.
Tuition and fee hikes over the past several years have disproportionately affected in-state students compared with those from out of state, according to data provided by Wichita State.
While out-of-state tuition is higher than in-state tuition, in-state tuition rates have outpaced increases in out-of-state tuition 17 percent to 7 percent since 2012.
Increased tuition can largely affect the school’s ability to continue to recruit first-generation students and minority students, Shepard said. He worries that increasing tuition could have a domino effect on the retention rates of those and other students.
Housing and food
Housing and food also are among the most expensive parts of college.
The proposed cost to live in the new Shocker Hall at Wichita State this fall is $10,572, including a 15-meals-a-week plan, according to information provided by WSU.
“It’s a pretty penny to live in Shocker Hall, to be quite frank,” Shepard said. “Personally, I’m grateful for the opportunity to live off campus and not have to pay that much money to live in the dorms. That being said, as an institution, we’re going to have to look at how to make on-campus living more feasible for students.”
The cost to live in the 1960s-built Fairmount Towers, also with a 15-meal plan, is $8,722 – up 34 percent from fall 2012.
Part of the reason for cost increases at Fairmount, and for the even higher price at Shocker Hall, is that WSU is asking students at Fairmount to share the cost of transitioning to better student housing, including subsidizing the cost for the new Shocker Hall, Schlapp said. The increase is also to bring the cost “more in line with the market,” according to Wichita State.
Fairmount was built when students accepted limited housing amenities, Schlapp said, and it is no longer meeting students’ needs. Shocker Hall and halls like it are the future, he said: much better food, plenty of outlets to plug in and recharge the iPad – everything modern students not only need, but want.
WSU is trying to do more now than merely provide a place for students to live, Schlapp said. It is trying to make campus housing a real draw.
Only 8 percent of WSU’s students live on campus. “And we want to do better than that,” Schlapp said. “You can go two ways in doing that. We could go cheap, but we’ve found that if we do that, students will go live on Rock Road or somewhere else. Or we can try to provide much better housing with a lot more amenities.”
Contributing: Associated Press
Five-year history of tuition, fees at Wichita State
% change FY12-FY15
Tuition and fees per semester
Resident undergrad (15 hours)
Non-resident undergrad (15 hours)
Housing per year
Source: Wichita State University data, Eagle analysis
State general funds to Wichita State
Source: Wichita State University