Students and parents who reportedly "burst into applause" when they are told about Kansas University's new four-year tuition plan need to stop and think this idea through.
KU's four-year tuition "compact" was approved Thursday by the Kansas Board of Regents where it was touted as a way to help families plan financially for the cost of a student obtaining a bachelor's degree. It's a plan that one KU official said has caused audiences at new student orientation sessions this month to burst into applause in apparent gratitude for this gift from the university.
The only message they may be receiving, or at least hearing, is that KU will guarantee their child's base tuition at KU won't go up for the next four years. But let's, as they say, do the math.
When your freshman enters the university this fall, he or she will be paying tuition that is almost 16 percent above last year's rate. Meanwhile, other students will be paying tuition that is 7.3 percent higher if they are Kansas residents or 6.5 percent higher if they are nonresidents.
If your freshman completes a degree at KU in four years, the higher first-year tuition may just amount to prepaying tuition for the subsequent three years, or if tuition rises rapidly, it could produce an overall saving. But if anything interrupts the four-year plan, families could end up paying more than without the compact.
KU officials know that a large number of students drop out of the university after their first or second semester, so getting more money upfront is a winning financial strategy. And the four-year clock keeps ticking even if the student skips a semester or more. If students drop out and come back within the four years, they will pay the original rate, but four years after the original compact, they will have to pay regular tuition unless the university grants some kind of waiver.
KU officials also know that despite the fact that it's possible for students to complete a degree in four years, many students do not. Those who don't fit that mold, will have to complete their degree at a non-guaranteed tuition rate. The university also benefits from more students finishing degrees in four years because it helps KU in various national rankings that consider graduation rates.
Officials have touted this plan as a way to provide tuition "predictability" for students and parents. If that was truly their altruistic goal, they could accomplish the same thing by offering a four-year graduated tuition rate that didn't make people prepay a quarter of the estimated tuition cost for four years. But then KU wouldn't have use of that money during a student's four-year degree plan and wouldn't be able to just keep the extra money paid by students who entered the compact but didn't complete the four-year challenge.
As the orientation applause dies down - perhaps in a year or two when people's four-year hopes are growing dim or have disappeared - this plan may start to look less like a gift and more like a scam.