The Kansas Board of Regents should put pressure on state legislators to adequately fund higher education, but it also should stand by its decision to limit university tuition increases regardless of how much state funding legislators approve.
It's understandable that the regents currently are saying that the amount of state funding approved by the Kansas Legislature is critical to keeping tuition increases at a reasonable level. Legislators have approved only half of the $20 million increase Gov. Kathleen Sebelius recommended for higher education operating budgets, and regents want to keep the pressure on legislators to come up with the other half.
Lawmakers, however, are facing significant financial challenges of their own. The latest state revenue estimates were $130 million below earlier predictions, and lawmakers have been told it will cost about $30 million more than expected to cover the state's social service programs. Against that backdrop it will be tempting to bypass additional higher education funding.
By the same token, if that funding is not forthcoming, it will be tempting for the regents to use that action to justify higher increases in university tuition. That would be the wrong move.
During tough economic times, as reflected by the lower revenue estimates, is exactly the wrong time to shift more of the financial burden of a university education to students and their families. After a number of years of double-digit tuition increases, many Kansans are struggling to pay for the higher education that is so important not only to them personally but to the economic future of the state.
In February, the regents told university leaders that they would not accept tuition increases of more than 6 percent for the next school year. It is hoped the revenue from that increase can be combined with the full $20 million operating increase recommended by the governor. That money will pay dividends for the state in the long run.
However, even if legislators fail to approve additional higher education funding, the regents should stick by its insistence on tuition increases of no more than 6 percent. As students and their families are forced to tighten their belts to pay their higher education bills, universities should have to do the same.