The cost of a college education continues to rise, outpacing inflation rates in many parts of the country, but tuition in Kansas is linked directly to inflation rates.
College tuition and fees continue to rise in Kansas and across the nation, but the annual increases are getting smaller, according to a new study.
The annual survey by the College Board found the national average tuition for in-state undergraduate students at four-year schools this year was $3,356 for two semesters, up 3.4 percent from last year. But that's the smallest increase in four years.
At Kansas University and the five other state regents institutions, tuition increased 2.8 percent from last year to this year. Next year it will go up another 2.5 percent.
For a full year's tuition and fees, KU undergraduate students from Kansas are paying $2,517.50 for 15 credit hours each semester; out-of-state students pay $9,120.50 for the same number of hours.
Tuition and fees for regents schools, and most Big 12 universities, are well below the national average.
"We're a third below the national average, and we think we're an outstanding value for Kansas residents," said Tom Hutton, director of University Relations at KU. "We have a high-quality education and affordable costs, and the numbers bear me out on this."
According to the College Board study, students at four-year public schools are paying $109 more than last year's average of $3,247 per year. The New York-based College Board administers the Scholastic Assessment Tests (SATs).
Tuition linked to inflation
Tuition at the six regents schools, including KU and Kansas State University, is set by the Kansas Board of Regents, based on recommendations from the Budget Development and Tuition Committee. The committee works a year in advance, submitting proposals to the regents each spring. Its recommendation of an across-the-board increase in tuition of 2.5 percent beginning in the fall of 2000 was approved in June.
That translates to an extra $26.13 in tuition costs each semester, up from the current $1,045 per-semester tuition for undergraduate Kansas residents.
Marvin Burris, director of fiscal affairs for the regents, said the past two tuition increases at regents institutions have been directly tied to Kansas inflation rates, as determined by the non-governmental Consensus Revenue Estimating group.
Included in that group are economists from KU and K-State, and the state's budget director. They forecast economic indicators for the state. The group will release its newest forecasts in November, and Gov. Bill Graves' staff will use the data to make budget decisions.
"They're collectively like (Federal Reserve Board Chairman) Alan Greenspan in a way," Burris said.
Kansas tuition hikes
Burris said the regents institutions haven't gone a year without a tuition increase since the late 1970s, but the average annual increases have been decreasing. From 1980 to 1990, average annual increase was 8.5 percent. From 1990 to 2000 that dropped to an annual average of 6.1 percent.
Burris said the board recently adopted the practice of matching inflation rates and tuition increases to avoid placing the price of education at Kansas schools out of reach.
"I think there were a number of years where the board was increasing tuition rates, but at the same time there began to be a realization that student financial aid programs were somewhat on the wane in the leaner economic times," Burris said.
"The board felt that they had to be sensitive to the families needs to access education," he said.
Record financial aid
According to national figures released by the College Board, financial aid can help during those lean times: financial aid totaled $64 billion last year, a record. Of that, 58 percent came from student loans, one-third higher than the 40 percent in 1980-81.
With financial help, more students are able to attend college who may not have been able to without the aid.
"Times are good. State budgets are better than they've been in over a decade," said Jane Wellman, an analyst at the non-profit Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington, D.C.
Wellman noted that when the economy starts to turn sour, higher education is one of the first expenses to face belt-tightening measures.
Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board and a former governor of West Virginia, said prospective students shouldn't be priced out of an education and encouraged them to check out all alternatives, including two-year community colleges.
"All across this country there is evidence that Americans are more aware of the importance and benefit of a good education," Caperton said.
-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is email@example.com.