Archive for Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Numbers don’t tell whole tuition story

Cost to attend KU has doubled since ‘02

February 12, 2008


Regents to discuss capping tuition increases

The Kansas Board of Regents meet on Wednesday to discuss setting a cap on state universities' increasing tuition costs. Meanwhile, one family with three kids has little idea of how to cover the cost. Enlarge video

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.

Twice a year, a $60 million deposit is made into Kansas University's bank account.

It's not really one big deposit, but rather many smaller deposits - deposits from students and families in Kansas, across the nation and even around the world.

They're also deposits that are getting bigger. In the past five years, in-state tuition at KU has doubled. Almost exactly, in fact.

Tuition was $2,921 in 2002 and has risen by $2,923 in the past five years. In the past 20 years, tuition has increased more than fivefold.

Tuition also is rising much faster than inflation, which has a 20-year rate of about 80 percent. And it's far outstripped the increase in per capita income in Douglas County, which has roughly doubled since 1987.

Numbers, however, tell an incomplete story.

They don't tell the story of the KU professor who is doing potentially life-changing research in a job funded by tuition revenues.

And numbers don't describe the difficulty a Lawrence family faces, having lived through large, annual tuition hikes, in putting three children through Kansas universities.

On Wednesday, the Kansas Board of Regents once again will wrangle with the tuition issue. As they do, they'll focus on stories they've heard from friends and acquaintances who struggle to pay for college - and on the stories of people who've determined college is financially out of reach.

Last month, several regents said they want a thorough discussion about this year's tuition proposals. On Wednesday, they will meet and decide whether there is to be a rate freeze or a rate cap. Or perhaps they'll decide that, while desirable, it's just not possible to limit tuition.

The discussion

Regent Gary Sherrer, who questioned tuition increases last month, wants a tuition cap. That limit would be set before universities take their proposals to regents this spring.

"I just happen to believe the more expensive it gets, the more doors that get closed to people," Sherrer said.

Six consecutive years of large tuition increases and a slowing economy combined to persuade Sherrer it's time to hold the line - at least for a year.

"If the economy changes, the issues may change," he said.

It's not just KU that has seen major cost increases. Kansas State has virtually matched KU's increases percent for percent, and the other state universities have enacted hefty increases of their own.

Regent Jill Docking, who also works for an investment firm, said she wants to know - specifically - what the universities must cut if tuition were capped. She also wants information on just how much of a problem rising tuition is for students and their parents.

"I don't think it's fair to have a decision made : without hearing from the universities, and we really haven't heard from the schools," Docking said.

Even the best-laid plans ...

As a certified financial adviser, John Oberzan started saving for his children's college education when they were toddlers. He put aside money, anticipating education costs rising twice as fast as inflation.

Still - with a son finishing his fifth year at KU, a daughter who is a KU sophomore and another daughter who is a high school senior - the Lawrence dad is suffering a bit from sticker shock.

"You try to plan for their education when they were small," Oberzan said. "But yet when you have a series of increases that close together, it can throw a wrench into the best planning. You have to make adjustments."

His son works while going to school. His daughters have earned scholarships.

And Oberzan has dipped into investments he'd hoped to spend in retirement.

Today's costs are a far cry from when Oberzan went to KU in 1965 on what he jokingly refers to as the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant Scholarship. In actuality, he spent his summers working there, and it was enough to pay his way.

Faced with at least four more years of college bills, Oberzan said, he just hopes tuition increases will slow down.

"It seems disappointing to me that the state Legislature hasn't seen the importance of education and providing more funding for universities. So therefore (the universities) turn around and have to increase tuition and they put it on the backs of students, making them borrow more money, or their parents who have to pay tuition," he said.

The payoff

All those higher tuition payments don't just go up in smoke. Kansas State President Jon Wefald said last month that Kansas universities had to make a choice between mediocrity and excellence.

"We've chosen excellence," he said.

That was the same refrain when KU started its "Tuition Enhancement Plan" more than five years ago, a plan that accounts for the lion's share of the large increase.

And it's a plan that brought Paulette Spencer to KU. Spencer, a university distinguished professor and director of the new bioengineering research center, wants to determine why artificial tissue fails so much more quickly than natural body tissue.

"Anytime we put a synthetic or a tissue-engineered material against the normal, biological material, where the failure occurs is at the interface between those two constructs," she explained. "It's the same as all the roadway surfaces, actually. As soon as they start a repair, where does the next pothole form? Right there."

Spencer's new lab will rival any lab across the country, she says. And she intends to bring in students of all levels - undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate - to look at how to build better biological tissue.

More importantly, she says, transferring the techniques and technology she develops in the lab to industry will be a major goal of her work.

"One of the things we'll make available to (students) is really state-of-the-art instrumentation," Spencer said. "In addition, through this relationship of interacting effectively with industry, they will have an opportunity to interact with potential employers."

Working overtime

When it comes to tuition, Andrea Cassell has two goals: She doesn't want to go in debt, and she doesn't want her freshman daughter at KU to work while going to school.

Those two objectives have Cassell putting in long hours as a tutor for special-needs students, skipping the coffee shops and nail salons and budgeting every dollar she has.

"Education is key to everything in life," she said.

Divorced from her daughter's father, the Wichita mom must pay for her youngest daughter's education.

Seven years ago, Cassell started saving. And when she realized she wasn't going to be able to put enough money away as a special education elementary school teacher, she quit her job and started working as a private tutor. She doubled her salary by working far more than 40 hours each week.

Still, Cassell is struggling and doesn't have four years of college covered. And it's not just tuition. Books, housing and groceries also have Cassell scrambling.

"I do think there comes a time when the system has to say, 'OK, we need to cap this for all the universities and make it affordable until things change,'" she said.

Stuck in the middle

The Kong family is stuck squarely in the middle class - and smack in the middle of paying for their three children's college education.

Man Kong is an electrical engineering and computer science professor at KU. Sue Kong is a medical technologist at the Internal Medicine Group. They have three children: Andrew, a junior at KU; Amanda, a senior at Free State High School; and Alex, a freshman at Southwest Junior High.

They earn too much money to qualify for significant financial aid, but not enough to have set aside money for tuition.

"When you are in the middle, it is just really difficult," Sue Kong said.

The Kongs had started saving accounts for each of their children, but, as the children grew, the money was needed for more urgent bills.

And the couple haven't factored in the ever-increasing price tag of a college education.

"I hadn't thought about how expensive it would be and how much of a tuition hike (there was) from the time I graduated," Sue Kong said.

So far, much of the money they have saved has gone to Andrew.

So they are crossing their fingers that scholarships - maybe even a full ride - will come in, especially for the youngest. The other alternative is taking out loans.

"We are trying to help each kid along and hope that they could get through the first four years without having them carry much loan," Sue Kong said. "It would be a great stepping stone for them to come out of college and just go into a job without having to pay all these college debts."


BigPrune 10 years, 2 months ago

How about online courses and do away with the buildings?

mtnfreak 10 years, 2 months ago

davidsmom, you have a good point that there are certainly things that are not meant to be in everyone's monetary reach. However, remember that an educated public serves everyone. We can't have a country run by a bunch of goons because college became too expensive for even the average person. That was the original intent of the GI bill - educate as many as possible because in the long run it serves the best interest of the country as a whole to be educated.

Also, I wonder how good of a financial advisor Mr. Oberzan is. I have student loans that charge 2.625% interest - pretty cheap. Much cheaper than digging into a retirement account that could earn upwards of 10% if invested correctly. Granted, the market is down now, but it follows an upward trend in the long run and any money you put in now will earn compound interest over several years. That's the one bright spot in all the tuition hikes - at least student loans are affordable and don't cost much with such low interest rates.

davidsmom 10 years, 2 months ago

As an employee at another university, I have an inside look at the massive infrastructure as well as expenses related to small details it takes to operate a university. Whether an institution has 40 buildings or 200, the cost of basic building maintenance is mind-boggling, and the Kansas legislature has seen in recent years that when maintenance is deferred the cost is so much greater. Additionally, during the past several years staff raises where I work were capped at 2%, while benefit and other costs skyrocket. Members of Congress or state legislatures who think that a major university can contain costs at the same level as a Community College do not have a clue how unrealistic that is. Community Colleges, while doing an excellent and needed job of undergraduate teaching, have fewer buildings, do not focus on research and graduate and professional programs, all which are just some of the reasons for the higher price tag at universities. While I would love to see a college education within the reach of everyone who wants it, this is not necessarily a realistic goal. Higher education will most likely always remain more available to those who can afford more. There are things I cannot afford and do not have. It is just a fact of life. I agree with Jon Wefald. If we are faced with a choice between having excellent universities available to a limited population, or mediocre to poor universities available to everyone, I think excellent is the better choice....and then to search for ways to make access available to more without sacrificing that excellence.

toefungus 10 years, 2 months ago

Kansas State President Jon Wefald said last month that Kansas universities had to make a choice between mediocrity and excellence.

"We've chosen excellence," he said.

What this means is when Jon looks at his pay, he says "excellent".

bugmenot 10 years, 2 months ago

I'm going to get blasted for this, but I was a GTA at KU and I have some experience with some of these kids. Some kids just shouldn't be in college. I was shocked at the high percentage of students I had in their second year of college who could not write clearly, spell, or organize their thougts into a coherent argument. Beyond that, so many of them did not ever prepare for class. These were almost inevitably the same kids who would come and argue with me because they didn't get an A in the class.

A lot of kids think because they pay money for tuition that they "deserve" a diploma and good grades. Honestly, probably half of the kids at KU right now shouldn't be in college. Even so, because the University needs tuition money to cover its day-to-day costs, especially as the state keeps decreasing their funding. Thus, KU won't be more stringent in its acceptance policies.

Honestly, we need to go back about 30 years to a time when the brighest, most capable kids went to University, and others went to trade school or into blue collar jobs. That said, there are no blue collar jobs available, as we've shipped them all to China, so we have the current situation: a watered-down and expensive educational system that doesn't really prepare kids for working and doesn't impress employers. Anymore, to have a top-notch job, college degrees don't cut it. Today's college degree is yesterday's high school diploma; today's master's or doctoral degree is yesterdays' college degree.

bugmenot 10 years, 2 months ago

Sorry, I meant to add that it's a cyclical problem: as unskilled jobs become more scare, the more unskilled people there are who enter college, the more the degree earned becomes diluted, the more people require graduate programs, additional undergraduate students and more graduate students makes colleges more expensive to run, tuition is raised to cover costs, those paying higher tuition expect more bang for their buck (in terms of grades earned), the value of the degree is diluted, and the cylce continues.

saraheckman 10 years, 2 months ago

i completely agree with you, bugmenot. I see it everyday at Washburn; students who do not care to learn. I also see my university waste a lot of money on projects to attract said students.

salad 10 years, 2 months ago

" I was shocked at the high percentage of students I had in their second year of college who could not write clearly, spell, or organize their thougts into a coherent argument. Beyond that, so many of them did not ever prepare for class. These were almost inevitably the same kids who would come and argue with me because they didn't get an A in the class."

This is why I quit teaching in public high school. It starts in the Jr. High, and by college it's just accepted that if you show up you get a passing grade. God help you if you're the teacher who wants to give a kid an "F" because they did nothing...I mean absolutely nothing. I had kids in their second year of high school who couldn't add fractions and didn't understand what a square root was that still expected an "A". "well I always got "A's" in all my other math classes!!! It's because you don't teach us anything!!!" We need to bring back the draft on this whole lazy, useless generation of text-messaging, video game playing, sense-of-entitlement brats.

bugmenot 10 years, 2 months ago

Salad, I completely agree. My "kicker," teaching-wise, came with one kid who was pathetically lazy. He didn't turn in a paper that was worth 20% of the grade. There was a system in place by which, each day the paper was late, you lost a certain percentage of the available points. The day after all the points were gone, he came to me to talk about not having turned it in. He gave me such a sad story - family problems, work troubles, this, that, and the other - that I told him I'd take pity on him and allow him to turn the paper in within 3 days for 50% of the total points. He'd still get an F on the paper, but wouldn't wipe out as big a chunk of his grade. I got his paper, and it was terrible. I tried to be fairly lenient, and he ended up getting, maybe, 30% of the available points on the project. As a direct result of that poor performance and his overall poor performance, he ended up getting a D in the class. (Yes, after all that, he passed!)

Well, what do you know? I got an email from the kid's DAD a week or so after grades came out - cowardly kid didn't even email me himself! The dad said his son "deserved" a higher grade. Of course, junior hadn't filled him in about the poor performance and omitted paper deadline. I told Dad about that, and the situation went away. Even so, I will always remember how my bending over backwards to help this kid ended up: I was clearly just one more teacher in a line of many who enabled this kid and gave him this attitude. I stopped teaching, too.

Richard Boyd 10 years, 2 months ago

Interesting, what area were you teaching? I started my own KU trip at age 38 in 2000. I enjoyed my first trip down the hill in 2004 and I will get a special encore in May.

The "graduate program" that I am finishing up presently, is arguably THE most competitive, it is interesting that the young people I hung around with in Lawrence, the ones seeking admission to the same program, were as a general rule a very studious lot. They had to be great students all the time without excuses...

I had occasion to teach physiology labs from 2001 to 2004, Bio 647 (at the time anyway) was a required prerequisite for the school of pharmacy. Needless to say, these kids were noted to be "business like" at a minimum. I simply loved teaching these highly motivated bright young people.

bugmenot 10 years, 2 months ago

RABdad, that's why you had a rewarding experience - bright kids go into biology! I taught in the business school, arguably the department at KU with the highest percentage of people who have no business in college.

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 2 months ago

Whine whine whine. How typical of populist conservatives to want something for nothing, a free ride.

You don't want to pay taxes to fund KU and other higher education facilities to the level they need, so you must pay higher tuition.

This is the ownership society.

Quit whining about the high cost of tuition, or start paying the taxes necessary to support the universities.

bugmenot 10 years, 2 months ago

Or, charge what you charge now and be pickier about who you let in. That way, the endowment can go for scholarships to attract the best students out there. I'm not at all opposed to funding higher education - I think that's the wisest investment we can make with tax money. I just hate to see KU's good name diminished by the large number of complete idiots with degrees from there.

1029 10 years, 2 months ago

It makes me sick to hear of parents "struggling" to pay for their kid's tuition and not wanting their kid to work while in school. I went through KU without a single dime of my parents money, except for the occasional $20-$50 I may have gotten at Christmas or for a birthday. I worked eight hours every day after class and got mediocre grades and minimal sleep, but I didn't think anything of it because it was just basic survival. I feel privledged to have had the opportunity that I did, knowing that many kids lack the resources (car, credit, etc.) to even think about going to college. The whole idea of kids not having to work until they "graduate and go out into the real world" is insulting to the people that that articles like this tend to pretend don't exist--the real majority "middle" class.

The Kong family is "stuck squarely in the middle class"? They sound pretty well-to-do to me. Those professions sound like they pay enough to put them them well above the MSA median income. What a bunch of snobby quotes. Poor Kongs. They must have it so hard being in the middle.

sdinges 10 years, 2 months ago

BigPrune: When I transfered to KU in my third year from a Canadian university, I was extremely disappointed by their lack of Summer, distance-ed and online courses. Past freshman and maybe sophomore year, Summer is not really an option for students, and distance-ed and online courses are nonexistant. While we might not do away with buildings, having these options might ease the need for new ones.

Second - While I think that tuition costs at KU are perhaps a bit out of hand, what ever happened to expecting your kids to work and help out? First of all, when I TA'd in Economics, I saw a lot of first year Business students who had no clue why they wanted to be in that program, and had no interests in a particular field of work. They would just stare blankly and say either their parents told them to, or they wanted "a good job." Instead of sending your kids to college right after high school, why not ask them to work for a year and develop a clearer picture of why they want to go, as well as savings to defray costs? Why not send them to a community college for their first year of Gen-eds, which will transfer? My parents told me that they would help me with university if I got scholarships, but otherwise I was on my own. So I started working part-time at 15 and worked to apply and qualify for scholarships. Why do your kids need a free ride? Fewer kids would be going into their fifth year of university if -they- were footing the bill, or if you gave them time to develop an actual interest in something before studying it.

Tony Kisner 10 years, 2 months ago

All those higher tuition payments don't just go up in smoke. Kansas State President Jon Wefald said last month that Kansas universities had to make a choice between mediocrity and excellence. "We've chosen excellence," he said. - Dr. Wefald, can you define excellence? - Yes it is what we have created here, by definition; I say it is excellent so it is. - Dr. Wefald, to the average tax payer or family, trying to give opportunities to their next generation, isn't this definition of excellence a little esoteric? Money sir money defines excellence. Look if you want to buy a new car, which one do you want? A Mercedes is the obvious choice, if you want to drive a Kia so be it, but they are not as good and you will not like it one bit. - But Dr. Wefald the institution you run was established as a Land Grant school, one would assume that access was a basic idea, desire, goal of the institution. A better educated populace reaching for even higher loftier ambitions, a service to it's self. I can't agree more, now is the time for the lofty. We are doing great things here, our basketball team is really good, and there are other things like big buildings and stuff. - One more question you must have gone to a Community College or possibly Ft. Hays State. As a matter of fact let me ask you have President Clinton or Dr. Rice come to your little stupid Community College and given a speech? - What if I asked the student, who just graduated from Garden Plain High School, what they thought excellence in a college is, or a potential employer what excellence in college is, what do you think it the answers would be? Look early on in my administration I choose a path to have a great football team, I am on record stating that if I could establish a winning football team on campus I would generate more interest in K-State and more students would come here. Now that they have arrived I am going to charge them as much as I can. It is time to make hay. What do employers look at, no doubt about it, hey you guys have a good football or basketball team, you must be a pretty cool dude, you are hired. As I said and I will stand by it, Excellence is what we are about here at K-State and don't you forget it. Esoteric my a$$.

cowboy 10 years, 2 months ago

It would please me if they took about 1/4 of KU's budget away from them and started a world class trade school here in Lawrence . I gaurantee you the return on investment would at least quadruple KU's .

Evan Ridenour 10 years, 2 months ago

I love how many of the people quoted for this article weren't having their children help pay for costs through student loans or WORKING.

You can't actively choose to place all of the costs on yourself and then bitch and moan about it. Anyone who claims a kid can't get a 4.0 while working and being a full time student is full of BS!

bugmenot 10 years, 2 months ago

I worked and was a full time student and graduated with a 4.0 in both my majors, Eride.

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