KU tuition increases draw little protest

Conrad Ostrand knows he should be mad.

Ostrand, a fifth-year senior who graduates Sunday from Kansas University, paid 84 percent more in tuition this semester than he did as a freshman.

But he can’t get himself fired up about it, even when he thinks about the $25,000 in debt he’s incurred or the hours he’s spent as a waiter to pay for school.

“I feel like I can’t do anything,” said Ostrand, who is from Leavenworth. “There’s a hierarchy for school, and the man at the top will get their money either way. I should be angry, but I don’t know.”

Ostrand isn’t alone. Though many students say they’d prefer not to pay more for their education, no organized opposition has developed against the current five-year plan that will more than double tuition rates by fall 2006.

“There’s grumblings here and there,” said Steve Munch, a junior who recently completed a year as student body president. “Nobody’s ever going to be happy with paying more money. I think it’s just become a part of the culture on campus the last couple of years. People accept this program is going on and realize there’s a lot of good coming from it.”

Tuition for undergraduate Kansas residents has increased 78 percent since the 2001-02 school year to $4,163. The extra money has paid for a variety of campus improvements, including additional faculty, technology and library enhancements, and pay raises for student employees, graduate teaching assistants, faculty and staff.

KU on Thursday is expected to ask the Kansas Board of Regents for another large increase expected to raise tuition to around $4,840 for the 2005-06 school year.

As tuition has risen, so have other expenses associated with attending KU. For instance, average room-and-board costs for on-campus living are up 18 percent since the tuition increases began.

Kansas University is midway through a five-year plan to more than double tuition rates.KU is spending the extra money on enhancements designed to advance the university toward Chancellor Robert Hemenway’s goal of becoming a top-25 public university. But some students are feeling the pinch of rising costs.Today, part two of three: Many students don’t want to pay the extra tuition money, but little — if any — organized opposition has developed to the five-year tuition plan.

KU leaders say tuition and fees compose 34 percent of the $13,778 average annual cost of attendance. The university’s overall estimated cost of attendance has risen 21 percent since the 2001-2002 year.

Jeff Vincent, a junior from Overland Park, said tuition increases have made his plans to pay for college more difficult. He’s working part-time at the KU Bookstore, has help from his parents and is taking out loans to get an English degree.

“I guess I understand the concerns students have, but at the same time I guess that’s just the cost of the education,” Vincent said. “There’s a lot of mumbling about it, with mild frustrations. But apparently no one’s really frustrated enough to organize.”

Occasional protest

The only public demonstrations against the tuition increases came during 2002, when KU officials proposed the five-year plan.

That year, students held two protests on campus, the largest of which drew 40 students. That same year, student body president Justin Mills, flanked by about 20 students, told the Board of Regents KU administrators had done an “embarrassingly poor job of informing students” about the tuition increases.

“I would have assumed every year the students would raise the issue again,” said Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett, senior vice provost. “But students accepted it as a five-year plan. We’ve heard very little dissension.”

The most contention about tuition since the plan began involved a proposal to raise tuition specifically for classes in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. A $30 per-credit-hour fee would have paid for several projects, including renovation of Wescoe Hall and a new undergraduate science laboratory building.

But after some debate among students, an online poll showed only 29 percent of the students who participated supported the “differential tuition” proposal, and college officials scrapped the proposal.

Even then, there wasn’t much vocal protest.

“It’s like I told someone, this was theleast-controversial ‘controversial’ thing I’ve seen,” said Kim Wilcox, dean of the college. “I wasn’t surprised there was resistance. Nobody wants to raise tuition.”

Wilcox said officials and students in the college would consider proposing another tuition plan in the future.

‘Worry’ over increases

McCluskey-Fawcett offered two reasons why there might not be much student protest. First, she said, KU has closely followed the five-year plan laid out in 2002, with no surprises in either how much rates have been raised or what the money has been spent on.

Second, she said, fears of pricing some students out of an education have been unfounded. Overall enrollment also is up 5 percent during that time, from 28,190 in fall 2001 to 29,590 in fall 2004.

More importantly, she said, the number of students from families earning $36,000 or less per year actually increased during the period since the increases began, a product of the 20 percent of the tuition funds set aside for need-based financial aid.

Dick Bond, chairman of the Board of Regents, said state higher education leaders are paying attention to the demographic data.

“I think there are a lot of us — and I’m included — who worry about tuition increases,” Bond said. “We don’t want higher education to become elitist in Kansas.”

Even with the data, some students can’t help but wonder if the sticker price of an education is deterring potential Jayhawks from coming to Mount Oread.

Alanna Terpening, a freshman from Corpus Christi, Texas, said she could understand if the rising costs convinced students to look elsewhere — especially for out-of-state students. She said higher tuition rates would force her deeper into debt before she graduates.

“It would probably deter a few more students,” she said. “Tuition is very high.”

How Kansas University’s undergraduate tuition compares with selected other universities:

University Resident Nonresident
University of Colorado-Boulder $3,480 $20,592
University of Missouri-Columbia $6,276 $15,723
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign $6,460 $19,380
Kansas University $4,163 $12,117
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill $3,205 $16,303
University of Texas-Austin $4,260 $12,960
University of Nebraska-Lincoln $4,313 $12,803

How KU compares to other regents universities:

University Resident Nonresident
Kansas University $4,163 $12,117
Kansas State University $4,110 $12,870
Wichita State University $3,150 $10,603.50
Emporia State University $2,410 $9,130
Pittsburg State University $2,632 $8,990
Fort Hays Sate University $2,214 $8,338.50