It's time to draw the line on "differential" tuition at Kansas University. Students already in the midst of a five-year plan that will double in-state tuition at KU, should not be asked to pay an additional $30 per Liberal Arts credit hour to upgrade campus buildings.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences wouldn't be the first KU school to charge its students a "differential" tuition; other schools already have tacked on additional tuition ranging from $12 to $75 per credit hour. But the CLAS proposal is different in a couple of key respects.
First, it can hardly be called a "differential" because it will affect every student on campus, not just liberal arts majors. The fee would be charged to all students who take liberal arts classes, many of which are required for any KU degree.
It's extremely disingenuous of KU officials, after selling a five-year tuition plan that will double base tuition, to then allow schools, and especially the liberal arts school, to add back-door tuition increases disguised as "differential" tuition. KU base tuition has increased by at least $16.50 per credit hour for each of the past four years. The CLAS plan would phase in its fee over three years adding, $10 to each credit hour the first year, $20 the next and $30 for every year after that.
Another key difference in the CLAS proposal is where the money would go. Most of the added tuition charged in other KU schools has been dedicated to specialized equipment, additional faculty positions and other areas that directly benefit degree-seeking students in those schools.
The CLAS plan is to use its money, not on academics, but entirely on buildings, spending $30 million to $40 million on a complete renovation of Wescoe Hall, $70 million for a new science building and other improvements to offices and classrooms at Bailey, Blake and Fraser halls.
Essentially, the tuition differential dollars will be used to make a major capital investment in the state. It's true that the Kansas Legislature has been shirking its duty to support state universities, but this proposal to use additional tuition to build and renovate state buildings is highly questionable.
Maintaining the physical plant of state universities is a basic state responsibility; it should not be directly transferred to student tuition bills. In addition, if this fee is approved and the facilities are built, the state then will be responsible for future maintenance. A Kansas Board of Regents report this month documented the need for $584.5 million to take care of a backlog of maintenance and repairs at state universities. Among the larger projects cited at KU were almost $25 million for Malott and Haworth halls.
Shouldn't the state and the university concentrate first on these projects before undertaking major cosmetic changes to Wescoe Hall or the construction of a new science building?
In justifying various tuition increases, KU officials have been quick to point out how much of the money is being dedicated to additional financial aid for students. A Journal-World story last week shared officials' concern that not all students who might be eligible for financial aid were filing the necessary forms. More aid may be available, but an official noted that few students with a family income of more than $40,000 are eligible for federal Pell Grants. Others would largely be competing for subsidized student loans.
So, many KU students would be expected to graduate from college even further in debt because they have been forced to finance a state building plan. That just doesn't seem fair.
Differential tuition fees may be justified in some cases, but students are right to balk at the CLAS proposal.