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Archive for Saturday, December 15, 2001

KU, KSU must rise above rivalry concerning tuition increases

December 15, 2001

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The rivalry between Kansas University and Kansas State University is intense and probably results in both schools being better than if there was no competition.

Alumni and fans of each school, along with faculty and administrators, are well aware of this competitive environment, whether it centers on athletic success, enrollment numbers, private fiscal support, academic achievements, the number of students receiving distinguished scholarships or any number of other ways of measuring the excellence of one school against the other.

This intense in-state game of one-upmanship keeps those associated with both schools on their toes, and the public often thinks about which school is doing a better job for the state, which school is more relevant to the needs of Kansas and which school is doing the best job of educating the state's young men and women.

Sometimes the numbers and figures may be skewed to try to make one school look better, or selective dates may be chosen to highlight the accomplishments of students or faculty members of one school over the other. This is likely to continue as administrators at each school do what they can to put their institution in the best light. All this is good and probably healthy if done with accurate figures.

There is one area, however, in which both schools need to operate in lockstep. This is the matter of probable tuition increases for students at both KU and KSU.

Administrators and spokesmen for both schools are starting to make their case on the need for a jump in tuition. With the constant lowering of state support to higher education, at least in terms of the percentage of the schools' general operating funds, both schools are faced with the challenge of generating revenue to remain in a healthy, competitive position with their peer institutions and with state-aided universities in nearby states.

It wasn't until this year that KU and KSU were able to keep student tuition money rather than transferring that money to the state, which redistributed the funds, returning some, but not all, of it to the universities. Now, KU and KSU are able to keep all tuition money and use these funds for the benefit of the students and the university.

Perhaps this writer is wrong, but it appears KU and KSU officials are engaged in some sort of dance concerning the inevitable tuition hike.

KU officials have talked about various scenarios to approach the tuition increase. Currently, there are three possibilities, each based on a different target of net tuition revenue.

The increases seem high, especially when viewed over a four- or five-year period. On the other hand, they are needed if the school is to maintain and increase its level of academic excellence.

Some associated with KSU have acknowledged their school will be increasing its tuition, but that at this time, there is no plan to raise the price of going to school in Manhattan as high as it will be at KU with its new tuition schedule.

In this important matter of tuition, there is no justification for one school to try to undercut the other. It would be wrong for KU officials to announce their new tuition plan and then have KSU officials follow with their own announcement of lower tuition fees and a statement such as "We do not intend to increase the cost of going to KSU as much as tuition at KU has been raised. This is one more example of Kansas State being more sensitive to the needs of all Kansans. KSU remains committed to trying to provide a quality education at the lowest possible cost."

This should not, and cannot, happen.

Members of the Kansas Board of Regents should crack down right now on any gamesmanship either school might employ to try to play on tuition rates as a means of selling the story that one school or the other is more interested and concerned about the financial effect on students and their parents.

Any announcement about tuition increases at KU and KSU should be made at the same time under the supervision of the regents. And administrators at each school should be fully aware of what the charges will be at the other school, as well as at all regents universities.

At the time of these announcements, regents should make it clear some university degrees are more costly than others. For example, the costs associated with a degree from a school of engineering are higher than those associated with a degree in English. It would seem any new tuition schedule, at either KU or KSU, is likely to be more specific and flexible than the current fee schedule with students in some disciplines paying more for their education. For years, Kansans have liked to boast about the low cost of higher education in Kansas. They have talked about what a bargain it is to go to a Kansas university, and they are quick to point out how much more expensive it is to attend a state-aided university in most other states. In fact, the out-of-state tuition at KU often is lower than the in-state tuition at schools in other states.

The time has come, however, for Kansas to start to pay the price for these many years of low tuition. The gap between what students pay at other Big 12 schools and what they pay at KU's and KSU's peer institutions has widened to a dangerous degree dangerous if one is concerned about the long-term effect of low fees combined with lower state support.

KU and KSU officials need to work in a respectful, cooperative manner as they structure new tuition and fees at their respective schools.

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