Tuition increases to be considered later this month by the Kansas Board of Regents represent a disappointing trend of forcing students to pay for a larger percentage of their education because the governor and state legislators are unwilling for the state to appropriate the necessary money to meet its full fiscal responsibility to state universities.
The bright side of the equation, however, is that university officials are seeking to get control of some of the money and direct it to where they think it is needed most: faculty salaries. Despite strong lobbying efforts by university and Regents' officials, the Legislature has failed to approve faculty salary increases that keep up with those at peer institutions. The situation, university officials fear, leaves Kansas universities vulnerable to losing key faculty members to other states that can offer more attractive salary packages.
The solution proposed by a Board of Regents committee is to raise tuition at state universities and earmark some of that money specifically for faculty salaries. The tuition increase for Kansas residents would be 9 percent at Kansas University, Kansas State University and Wichita State University and 5 percent at Emporia State University, Pittsburg State University and Fort Hays State University. Non-resident tuition would rise by 13 percent at all state universities.
The proposal is tied into a three-year plan supported by KU Chancellor Gene Budig to use tuition increases to put millions of dollars into faculty salary increases. The goal is to raise faculty salaries in Kansas to 100 percent of the average salary at their selected peer universities in other states. KU faculty salaries currently are at about 88 percent of their peers.
It's a worthy goal and one that is being strongly supported by university officials and student representatives. They view tuition increases as inevitable and see the current proposal as a way to make sure a share of that money is used to preserve and improve the quality of university faculty.
It's unfortunate universities have come to this point. The Legislature has compounded the situation and slapped Board of Regents universities in the face by perpetuating such costly and outdated practices as the state's open admissions policy while refusing to allocate adequate money for something as basic as competitive faculty salaries. The state has been perfectly willing to have universities become more and more dependent on private funding raising and tuition increases rather than providing the level of state support the schools require and deserve.
The tuition/salary proposal may only encourage that trend. As long as lawmakers and governors can force students to pay an ever-increasing share of the costs of their educations, they are likely to continue to take this easy way out to meet the basic financial needs of the universities. The committee proposal wisely makes the tuition increases contingent on the Legislature doing its part by approving a 3 percent increase in university funding from the state general fund. If that funding is not received, the tuition increases would fall to 5 percent at KU, KSU and WSU and 3 percent at ESU, PSU and FHSU.
On a limited basis, the tuition/salary proposal is a policy that could benefit state universities. Tuition at Kansas universities is low compared to their peers, and the proposal will direct money where it is needed most. If the situation is dire, the universities must do what they can to preserve and reward their faculties. The regents and university officials should be careful, however, to guard against giving the Legislature another excuse to skimp on state funding for universities. Tuition increases should not be viewed as an ever-flowing tap to make up for what the state Legislature and governor are unwilling to provide.