When Wichita State students rejected a proposal to raise their own fees this week, they sent a clear message:
Students understandably are weary of being the trough officials dip into when they need funding for projects. In this latest case, the Shock the Future referendum would have financed $38.5 million in campus improvements — the majority of which was earmarked for a new business school — and would have made WSU’s student fees the highest in the state.
It’s time for Kansas and university leaders to acknowledge that college students alone can’t bear the financial burden of keeping public universities thriving and up-to-date.
Last year, funding for higher education from the state general fund was about $92 million less than it was a decade before. That means more costs have shifted to students through increased tuition, fees and related expenses, and now Kansas families provide more funding for public universities than the state does.
If our state wants to remain competitive, produce an educated populace and attract new talent, we must ensure that education beyond high school remains affordable for Kansas families. That means investing in higher education.
Gov. Laura Kelly’s proposed budget appropriates about $598 million to Kansas Board of Regents schools this year, which includes about $9 million to complete the restoration of a $30 million cut in 2017.
It’s a start. But as university presidents noted last month, that increase doesn’t cover the cost of annual inflation, so colleges are bracing for another tuition hike.
For Wichita State students, tuition is just part of the frustration. Last year, WSU raised fees $95 per semester to build a new YMCA on campus, and students still are paying for a 2010 referendum that raised fees to renovate the Rhatigan Student Center.
So it’s imperative that university officials also listen to students, understand their concerns and be up front and transparent when it comes to campus projects.
In a letter to the editor of The Sunflower, WSU’s student newspaper, members of the history department faculty said they were “dismayed” by the recent referendum — in particular, that the university raised millions for a new business building under the assumption that students would foot the rest of the bill.
WSU officials on Thursday said they were disappointed the referendum failed but that they will “review other options” for funding the new business building. On the table is a program-specific fee that could raise fees for business students by $30 to $35 per credit hour — a move that would no doubt price some students out of that program.
It’s simply not good business to ask already-cash-strapped college students to pay more for college. Kansas has to find another way.