Tuition increases are becoming at least an annual event for state universities in Kansas.
"There's never a good time to increase tuition," State Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, told Kansas University officials and others at a meeting of the Legislative Educational Planning Committee Thursday.
On the contrary, state legislators seem to think just about any time is a good time to raise tuition at state universities in Kansas. In fact, 1999 was such a good time for tuition increases that the Kansas Board of Regents did it twice, raising tuition for Kansas residents by 2.5 percent earlier in the year then 3.2 percent in December. Both increases applied for the fall 2000 semester. That was followed by another increase 3 percent for Kansas residents approved in May 2000. That increase took affect this fall.
Now, faced with a tight economic situation and a tight-fisted Legislature, Kansas University officials are threatening to resort once again to tuition increases to fund basic educational needs. Repeated tuition increases, along with the current economic downturn, may force many students to bypass or at least delay a college education for financial reasons. When that happens, both the state and its residents are the losers.
The state has taken a steadily declining role in the funding of its state universities. The burden has been shifted to students through tuition and special fees and to private donors who so generously support the mission of the universities. Those gifts are greatly appreciated by people who support higher education in the state, but providing a system of higher education in Kansas shouldn't be a purely charitable pursuit. Neither should students have to pay the majority of the costs.
Students benefit from one of the primary missions of state universities and that is to turn out well-educated graduates who hopefully will choose to live and work in Kansas. But those graduates also fill the jobs that feed the state economy. The research done by many of those students and their faculty supervisors fuels economic development and improves services throughout the state.
Higher education isn't simply a service the state provides for its residents. The students and research produced by state universities represent a service to the state.
That's why it's so discouraging for KU officials to be talking about the need for tuition increases to maintain adequate technology resources for the university. Lawmakers should be embarrassed at state universities' increasing dependence on private funding and tuition to finance basic educational needs.
Officials always are quick to point out that tuition at state universities in Kansas still is a bargain compared with their peers and with other Big 12 schools. It seems at least some of those officials are doing their best to remedy that situation.