Topeka Tuition at Kansas University would increase by 25.2 percent this fall for undergraduate resident students under a proposal announced by administrators Wednesday.
And if legislators don't approve a tax increase to help fund higher education, the tuition increase could go higher still, an official said.
The proposed increase Â to $1,460.25 from $1,166.25 per semester beginning this fall for students taking 15 hours Â is nearly identical to a proposal approved by a committee of students, faculty, staff and administrators earlier this spring.
KU's proposal and that of Kansas State University, which plans to raise tuition 25.1 percent, were the largest increases proposed at the Kansas Board of Regents meeting in Topeka. Proposals for increases at other state universities ranged from 6.4 percent to 11.5 percent.
The regents will consider the tuition proposals in June.
Waiting on state funds
KU officials have said they need a tuition increase because the university's funding has fallen behind that of its state-selected peer group of universities.
KU's proposed tuition increase is $19.60 per credit hour. Chancellor Robert Hemenway said plans call for about another $20 per credit hour increase each of the next five years, but he said the state allocation to higher education could affect those plans.
Regents Chairman Clay Blair said if the Legislature doesn't raise taxes, resulting cuts could force the regents to consider even higher tuition increases in June.
"If the state does what they're supposed to do, the tuition increase will be about enhancements," he said. "If not, we have to revisit the whole process again. The dilemma is: Should the students suffer because the Legislature failed?"
Proposed uses for the higher tuition at KU include increasing salaries for faculty, staff and graduate teaching and research assistants, improving minority recruitment and retention, starting online enrollment, and improving libraries and teaching facilities. Hemenway plans to create an advisory committee to oversee how the money is spent.
But if KU's budget is cut, he said, the money could be used for more basic services.
"I don't want to answer a hypothetical question," Hemenway said. "But if we're truly in a disastrous situation, you always go back to the first principle Â and that's the classroom. You do everything you can to preserve academics."
Twenty percent of KU's tuition increase would be used to fund need-based grants for students who qualify for federal financial aid. Officials in KU's Office of Student Financial Aid have said that amount should fund the unmet financial need created for those students with the tuition increase.
Reaction on campus mixed
The tuition increase proposal drew mixed reactions on KU's campus.
Judy Yu, a KU senior from Taiwan, already is working two jobs to pay for school. She said she'd have to scrounge for a little more scholarship money to make it through her final semester in the fall.
"I think it's unfair to slap on this huge increase to returning students," she said. "A lot of us came here because the tuition was very reasonable. If you take that advantage away, I think a lot of students would not be inclined to come back to KU, especially from out of state."
Ashley Boone, a freshman from Wichita, said higher education officials didn't have much choice if they wanted to maintain the quality of education and research at KU.
"The money can't come from anywhere else," she said. "The state doesn't have the money. I don't think we pay that much as it is. I wouldn't want to decrease the quality of the university."
Jonathan Ng, student body president, said increasing tuition would help KU meet its goal of becoming a top 25 research university. But he wasn't sure it needed to be increased so much.
"I'm not sure we need to start off with an increase to the tune of a 25.2 percent increase," he said.
He said using tuition money for anything other than the items recommended by the committee that established the plan Â even with budget cuts Â would "establish a bad-faith relationship" with students.
"You'd be deceiving students in a sense," he said. "But I'd fault the Legislature if that should happen."
'Attack' on Kansans
The proposals also drew reaction from Democrats in the Legislature, where the House continued to debate tax proposals that would better fund higher education.
Sens. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, and Jim Barone, D-Frontenac, said the tuition increase proposals were simply too high.
"Any serious consideration of these proposals would, in my mind, be a waste of time and a mistake," Barone said. "Increases of this kind attack working Kansas families, and are unacceptable. I trust the regents, who have begged and berated the Legislature for more tax dollars, will not pass on a massive tax increase to working Kansas families and students."
"Raising tuition on Kansas families by 25 percent is the height of irresponsibility," Hensley said. "The proposals from university presidents given to the regents indicates they are out of touch with reality."
But Blair said he thought KU's proposal would be approved by regents, especially because of the input from students, faculty and staff.