Although a Kansas House bill that would ask counties to pass a sales tax increase to fund repairs on state university campuses has many negative aspects, it includes one measure that many students and their families might applaud.
One part of the bill would prohibit any part of university tuition funds being used to provide financial aid to students. While that could be a devastating blow to some scholarship students, it corrects a situation that many believe places an unfair burden on tuition-paying students.
When Kansas University officials were selling the program that has doubled tuition for Kansas students over the last five years, they often touted that a percentage of that increase would be used to provide increased financial aid for students who couldn't otherwise pay the higher tuition. They have proudly reported that while tuition at the Lawrence campus has doubled, financial aid has more than kept pace. Funding for need-based tuition grants rose from $1.72 million in the 2002-03 school year to $6.8 million in 2005-06
What is glossed over in these figures, however, is that the university is basically robbing Peter to pay Paul. Everyone who is paying full tuition at KU actually is being forced to directly subsidize scholarships for other students. For some students, that may be an acceptable charitable donation, but for students who may be only marginally better off than those receiving tuition grants, it could be an extreme hardship.
For students who barely can afford to pay their own tuition, it is galling to know that the check they are writing also will pay a share of someone else's tuition.
This fact apparently is not lost on at least some members of the Kansas Legislature, perhaps some of whom are paying tuition for their own children. For that reason, they have called for all tuition increases currently being used for scholarships to be diverted into a "deferred maintenance support fund." The provision, of course, is an effort by the state to get students to pay for university repairs rather than properly taking this job on as a state-financed responsibility. Raising tuition to subsidize scholarships is a poor idea, but it's only marginally better to raise tuition to repair state-owned buildings.
Many generous private donors have provided funds over the years to help deserving students attend state universities. Rising tuition rates obviously increase the need for grants to provide financial aid, and every effort should be made to try to meet that demand. However, it just doesn't seem right that students who may be barely scraping up enough money to pay their own tuition should be forced to also help pay someone else's.