Even if tuition is doubled, a university education still will be within reach for most Kansas students, but state officials must pay special attention to those students who might be left behind.
Many Kansas University students walking down the hill toward graduation today may think they are getting their degrees just in time just in time to avoid proposed tuition increases that will double the cost of attending KU over the next five years.
Proposals by both KU and Kansas State University to raise in-state tuition by about 25 percent next fall, with similar increases for the next five years, are getting the attention of students and whoever helps pay their tuition. It also is getting attention from many Kansans who are concerned that a college education remain financially within reach of all qualified Kansas students.
The six universities overseen by the Kansas Board of Regents gave tuition recommendations to the regents last week. KU and KSU proposed the largest increases. Increases at the other four schools ranged from 6.4 percent to 9 percent for next fall. The increase would raise tuition for a student taking 15 credit hours to $1,460 per semester at KU and $1,458 at KSU.
Many claim that's still a bargain, but it isn't as great a bargain as it has been for Kansas students. Proposed tuition increases for out-of-state students would be lower, 9 percent to 10 percent, but their overall tuition would remain far higher, more than $5,000 per semester at KU and KSU.
The money raised from tuition increases will go to worthy causes, including making up for any shortfall resulting from a tight state budget for the next fiscal year. The goal is to use the funds to increase salaries for faculty, staff and graduate assistants, improve minority recruitment and retention and attend to such items as online enrollment and improved libraries and teaching facilities. The funding not only will help the university provide a better education for its students, it also will help support research that is important to the state's economic future.
The most troubling aspect of the tuition increases for most Kansans is the possibility it will prevent worthy students from attending college. Officials have said they would dedicate 20 percent of the money raised through tuition increases to fund need-based grants for students who qualify for federal financial aid, but many people still worry about the effect of tuition increases on students who don't quite qualify for aid. There are thousands of students at KU who are unable to qualify for need-based grants no matter how much new money is set aside.
A Pennsylvania State University researcher, who spoke to the Journal-World last week, feeds those fears by pointing to studies that show that every $1,000 increase in tuition results in a 2.5 percent decline in enrollment. He also noted that research shows lower-income students are the most likely to drop out of college, not enroll in the first place or choose a junior college when faced with tuition increases.
The people of Kansas would hate to see that happen. They want education to be available to everyone in the state. Only in recent years has the state even accepted minimal admissions requirements for Kansas high school graduates.
The Kansas Board of Regents is expected to act on the tuition proposals at its June meeting. Maintaining high quality facilities, teachers and staff at state universities is, indeed, a worthy goal. Some will say that even if tuition at KU and KSU is doubled, it will be a bargain when compared to schools in other states, but that doesn't make it any easier for Kansas families to pay the tab. It should be the goal of both the universities and the regents to make sure enhanced financial aid funding will allow as many Kansas students as possible to someday make their own walk down the hill to graduation.