Archive for Sunday, July 1, 2007

Do the math

A closer examination of Kansas University’s new guaranteed tuition plan shows it isn’t a guaranteed winner for all Kansas families.

July 1, 2007


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.


haspas 10 years, 6 months ago

Amen to this. Unrelenting, uncontrolled greed is an ugly thing to watch. And when the Board of Regents, along with the vast majority of the press/media fall into lockstep with it, it's the scandal that is screaming in a slight whisper.

niaby 10 years, 6 months ago

all that needs to be said is....duh! The only way this program is approved is if it has a financial benefit to the university. The plan is not really designed to save money, but just put a price sticker on the cost. Also the high amount of first and second year drop outs is what helps finance the plan for those students that get through in 4 years. This is why tuition can be locked in because there is a virtual guarantee that there will be some drop outs. I just find it funny that this is written after the plan is approved and not before it is approved. Oh well, years of dramatic tuition increases have just scared people into supporting a measure like this plan.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 6 months ago

Considering so much money can be saved by attending an awesome Johnson County Community College first then transferring perhaps students need some direction and parents need a heads up. So many students find difficulty in discovering what their forte may be this plan or scam doesn't seem to provide the necessary flexibility.

fletch 10 years, 6 months ago

This would sound a little less hollow if the LJW hadn't been towing the line on the 5-Year Plan for so long. But hey, way to fake some indignant rage after the fact. The fact is, that most families are willing to pay a slightly higher rate up front in order to be able to safely plan 4 years worth of finances and loans.

bige1030 10 years, 6 months ago

Strangely enough, the whole "guaranteed tuition" idea wasn't the idea of administrators - it was proposed by Student Senators. Granted, the administration probably saw these monetary benefits and ironed out the details to make even more. If it weren't for our student politicians, though, the guaranteed tuition idea wouldn't have even been brought up.

Sigmund 10 years, 6 months ago

This plan is expensive, but the reason isn't greed it's inefficiency. KU officials have never been interested in reducing costs, losses are SOP. Why? Because Kansas taxpayers, and now students, are expected to be a never ending source of more money. Some have even proposed that Lawrence increase its local taxes to help fund the maintenance on old buildings while KU builds new ones. The plan is rational from KU's perspective. To date to few people have had the courage to tell them; "No, live within your means."

The current KU administration wanted to be a "research university" instead of a "teaching university." Higher tuitions for students gives them less students to teach and maximizes income for research. The only advantage to students is that they can budget costs over the next four years, to the penny. When they do they will be able to compare various educations options. They will now know how much less money they will have to spend on rent, meals, clothes, movies, gas, and trips to downtown merchants over the next four years.

Who is the winner? Johnson County and their nationally recognized for excellence Community College. With a focus on students and teaching, it is located in a growing community with growing economy and compared to Larryville has higher wages for both part-time and full-time jobs, JCCC is a great value for money. And now students and families have a very strong financial reason for noticing the difference.

Who are the losers? Likely this increase will hurt not just KU students but the local economy, fewer students with less money to spend. Lawrence has gotten fat and lazy living off a seaming never ending stream of KU students and Kansas taxpayers dollars. While Kansas taxpayers haven't had the nerve to pull in the reigns of the current KU administration, students and their families may just decide to take their education dollars elsewhere. Considering the Lawrence's current budget deficits the City Commission had better get it's financial house in order while it can.

DaveR 10 years, 6 months ago

By comparison to a lot of what I read in the LJW, this was an outstanding piece of analysis.

niaby 10 years, 6 months ago

ya I don't think I can argue that it is a great piece...but just a little late in coming.

Kontum1972 10 years, 6 months ago

nobody does something for nothing.....and the regents are not going to you a big favor, also nothing was said about the funds that will not be available from the Fed., for education...due to the current admins., use of funds for the fiasco overseas...the kitty is drying up....all govt offices are expected to operate on less funding .....this coming fiscal year is going to be really tough..the poo runs downhill...look for an increase on the interest rates on fed student loans...and the penalty of defaulting on your loan and the possiblity of crimminal prosecution also enrollment is down....ever notice the number of empty rental houses around town as u drive by during the academic is being milked from every available resource to fund the war...

Wilbur_Nether 10 years, 6 months ago

Sigmund wrote "Kansas taxpayers, and now students, are expected to be a never ending source of more money." Which is nonsense. I have attended events with any number of KU administrators, and have never heard anything remotely like this. Sigmund continued "Some have even proposed that Lawrence increase its local taxes to help fund the maintenance on old buildings while KU builds new ones." Which wasn't quite what the proposal was...and that proposal came from a legislator, not from KU administrators. "The plan is rational from KU's perspective." Except that KU administrators were opposed to the idea--and if my memory is correct, said so in this very paper. The "live within means" rhetoric sounds good, but is essentially meaningless in an environment such as the Kansas Regents Institutions in which the legislature has consciously reduced its share of the "means" while expecting the universities to raise the tuition on our citizens and our children to cover the shortage. Sigmund continued "The current KU administration wanted to be a 'research university' instead of a 'teaching university.'" The research designation significantly predates this administration, and is a necessary condition for being a top-tier D1 university. Even before Budig was chancellor, KU focused on being a leading research institution. And the research/teaching dichotomy is a false one--no one at KU has suggested the teaching mission is to be sacrificed in favor of the research mission.

Sigmund 10 years, 6 months ago

Regardless of what KU administration says, their actions speak louder. Placing more of a burden upon students and taxpayers has always been the default action of KU. Have you ever seen KU lower costs in response to a never ending demand for more money? I haven't. Nor did I hear a single KU administrator oppose the legislator's proposal that Lawrence taxpayers pay for the maintenance of older buildings while KU continues to build new.

This tuition plan is a rational response by KU administrators to current demand for a fixed four year tuition plan. They may have opposed it initially, but under pressured they did it in a manner that placed a even larger burden on students and their families. Get the money upfront and too bad if you don't hang around to see a benefit. Tough beans. I expect most students and families would have preferred KU administration to reduce their costs of providing and education. Just a guess.

If the taxpayers decide to reduce funding for KU in response to shifting priorities or other constraints, KU arrogantly refuses to abide by those decisions. KU doesn't get to make funding decisions, that is the prerogative of the people of Kansas and their legislators. Yet KU does not adjust their expenditures, never has and never will. KU just does as it pleases, waits till deficits cause a "crisis" then passes the costs of wasteful practices and callousness on to students and taxpayers. It is a classic ploy we have seen over and over. Again, has KU ever reduced staff or cut costs to resolve budget deficits in response to the will of the people as expressed by the legislators?

While "research" and "teaching" institutions are not necessarily incompatible, they aren't exactly equal either. Facing scarce resources KU has ventured down the road that "research pays" and "teaching costs." As you bring in personal experience, I'll share as well. I was in conversation with a professor on campus who expressed the opinion that KU would be a great University if it didn't have to teach all these students because he would have more time to do "more important" work, he wasn't joking. At the time I dismissed it as an isolated opinion, but conversations with other professors, GTA's, and most importantly students leads me to believe that this is the norm, not the exception.

overthemoon 10 years, 6 months ago

I do find it funny that the JW only makes this point after the barn's burned down, so to speak.

I was not enamored with the plan as presented at summer orientation. Didn't need the JW to do the math. My child will start at KU this fall, but only plans to stay for 3-4 semesters and before transferring to another we will not benefit from the tuition plan at all. However, even at a 13% increase, KU is still by far one of the least expensive schools in the country for both in and out-of-state students.

Other schools have found that increasing their tuition to the level one expects at elite private universities has actually made them appear more 'top drawer' and they are attracting far more students of a higher caliber than ever before. Michigan's out of state tuition is the same as Yale, Stanford, etc. and they offer admission to only 15-20% of of 20,000 or so freshman applicants. Meanwhile, KU is still taking apps for the fall, and admits anyone who can get out of high school with a marginal GPA whether they are actually prepared for college or not. Small wonder so many students struggle to stay enrolled or take more than four years to graduate. I don't think that level tuition will change this situation.

Wilbur_Nether 10 years, 6 months ago

I suspect, Sigmund, that I took a class from that professor to whom you refer. Nonetheless, your premises are so faulty that I can't agree at all with your conclusions.

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