A lake surrounded by giant oaks and a campus filled with historic 18th-century limestone buildings.
First-rate academic programs in everything from liberal arts and engineering to computer science and medicine.
Cream-of-the-crop classmates. A signature men's basketball team. What more could you want in a college?
How about a tuition bill that won't wipe you out?
Even after a 3 percent increase this year, in-state tuition and fees at Kansas University are just $3,434 in 2001-2002. Add in books and living expenses and the annual cost comes to about $7,882 at least $20,000 less than the tab at most top private colleges.
Marvin Burris, director of fiscal affairs for the Kansas Board of Regents, said the board is charged by statute to set tuition for the state's six public universities, which are KU, Kansas State University and universities in Emporia, Hays, Pittsburg and Wichita.
He said the tuition tends to increase each year and is determined 14 months in advance of the academic year. The board makes decisions on tuition early to meet deadlines for the state budget and federal financial aid notification. It also gives students and their families more time to plan for changes in college costs.
"Over the last few years, tuition increases have been pretty modest," Burris said.
Among Big 12 universities, KU ranks third for tuition costs, just a few dollars higher than Kansas State University. Oklahoma State University in Stillwater is lowest at $7,590 this fall.
However, Burris said the regents have compared the state's universities with a different set of peer universities for the past 25 years. That group includes the universities of Iowa, North Carolina and Oregon, plus the Big 12's Colorado and Oklahoma.
"Those peer universities were chosen because they are in states that are much like Kansas in terms of economic status, and like our institutions because of the demographics and class mix," he said.
Those peer universities charge from $7,000 to about $10,000 per year, which is comparable to KU.
"Most people consider tuition at Kansas institutions to be a relative bargain," Burris said.
And college costs are a major factor for prospective students, said Alan Cerveny, KU's director of admissions and scholarships.
"I do think college costs are always going to be a big issue, but there's a pretty widespread recognition of our academic programs and our costs," he said. "We are pretty affordable."
KU has been touted by national magazines including Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, which ranked KU in the top 50 state universities for quality and cost. KU also is the only regents university to be a member of the Association of American Universities, a select group of 58 public and private research universities that represent excellence in graduate and professional education.
Cerveny praised the state for taking an active role in offering grants and scholarships.
"Frankly, for state-aided institutions, there's not many universities that offer freshmen students scholarships," he said. "We're pleased we do have those scholarships."
In terms of financial aid, Burris said, the state's largest offering is the $11.3 million Kansas Comprehensive Grant Program.
The state's public universities and private colleges are eligible for the funds from the regents-run program. The Legislature approved a 3 percent increase for the program this spring, he said.
"The program has been growing the last few years," he said. "The governor and the Legislature have supported it pretty well."
Burris said students at the state's public and private colleges and community colleges also are eligible for the state's scholarship program. About $1.3 million is allocated for the program this year.
How tuition is set will take a dramatic turn for the 2002-2003 academic year.
Burris said the regents agreed in June to change the process so that the six public universities' chancellors and presidents will propose their respective tuition costs. He said the regents ultimately will approve the pricing structure.
"What we're trying to do at the state level is set a budget model so the university has the flexibility to take its state dollars and develop a tuition model that works for them," he said.
Under the new format, Burris said, the state will award the universities each a block amount and they can choose how to spend it. That could mean colleges will start charging different tuition prices starting next year, he said.
"For KU and K-State, it's possible under the new approach they may start to diverge, but at same time they will be sensitive to their prices because they don't want to price themselves out of the market," he said.