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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2008

University says parents seem supportive of tuition compact

August 16, 2008

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The Rising Price of Tuition

In the past five years, tuition at Kansas University has doubled. It's gone up far faster than inflation, income and even the housing market. The LJWorld takes you beyond the numbers as it looks at the students and parents who have to pay for school and the professors that are made possible through the increases.

While the U.S. and local economies throw curveballs at people, striking their pocketbooks with unpredictable costs, Kansas University seems to have hit a home run with a tuition plan that offers financial stability to its newcomers.

Under KU's 1-year-old tuition system, each group of freshmen will see a new price that will remain locked in for four years.

For noncompact students - juniors, seniors, transfer students and graduate students - tuition will increase 6 percent this fall, according to a decision reached by the Kansas Board of Regents.

"It has absolutely been the best-received new program I've ever seen," said Marlesa Roney, vice provost for student success.

If the parents are happy, KU is happy.

Roney, who helps run new student orientation, said during last summer's sessions, when the idea was introduced to parents for the first time, there was spontaneous applause.

"It's a planning tool that allows people to plan forward on a major investment," Roney said. "It's a fixed rate, like budget billing for utilities. You know what the cost is going to be, the bulk of the cost over the next four years, which is pretty much unprecedented."

Though KU isn't advertising the plan as a way to save money, at a June new student orientation session parents were still grateful for the predictability of their children's tuition rates.

Robin Maxon, of Topeka, has a sophomore at KU who was in the first freshman class to have the tuition compact.

"I think it's a great idea," she said. "I love that the tuition doesn't go up."

It helps her family plan financially.

"It works out great to know exactly for four years what your payments are going to be," she said.

Though her children's tuition rates don't increase during their time in school, this year, there is a $244 per-credit-hour tuition increase.

She hates that, she said.

"Nobody likes an increase," she said.

The annual rise in rates has become something Bryn Wiley of Derby can always count on.

"Bottom line, that's the way it is," the KU grad said.

Now, as the father in a house divided - with a 20-year-old son at Kansas State University and Katie Wiley, 18, who will begin her freshman year at KU this fall - he's seeing the benefits of a fixed rate.

"We have one at K-State and it doesn't get locked in, so each year you just kind of wonder what you're going to pay," Wiley said.

The idea for the tuition compact, generated by student leaders in 2004, was to protect students and families from unpredictable spikes in tuition prices.

Lynn Bretz, KU spokeswoman, said KU's tuition history has been unpredictable over the past 30 years.

"It was completely unpredictable the way the timing works out now," Bretz said. "The regents rule on tuition for the coming year in June, and that gives you to the end of June, July and August to have a new plan. That's hard to plan."

While families are benefiting from the fixed rates, KU sits on the other end of the spectrum, unsure what the economy will look like four years down the road.

Roney said it's "a lot more work on our end, but we think it's worth it to provide stability."

KU just has to be sure it is generating revenue to keep the institution "a first-rate university," Roney said.

The trick, Bretz said, is to set the tuition rate at one the university could afford. Again, KU never promised any savings.

Gas prices, for example, are just as unpredictable as state education funding at times, so knowing what to price tuition at four years in advance is a challenge, according to Bretz.

"Gas is one little example of all the unknown factors we have to look at," Bretz said.

Donna Shank, chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Regents, said if something significant occurred regarding state funding, the institution would certainly be affected, "but that is part of the risk KU assumes when they ask the board to set the compact tuition rate each year."

"I think it is a challenge to not get the compact tuition rate too high in the process of trying to predict four years into the future," she said.

Still, for now, if parents and students are happy, KU is happy.

It's too early to tell if the tuition compact plan is impacting recruitment, said executive vice chancellor and provost Richard Lariviere. But he intends to discover that down the road.

"I hope we can continue this over a long period of time," Lariviere said

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