Members of the Kansas Board of Regents on Thursday told their universities to exercise prudence when coming up with tuition proposals.
Donna Shank, board chairwoman, said students and their families are struggling in the slumping economy, as are state budgets.
“I do not want to pass this whole burden on to students because they’re in the same boat we are,” Shank said.
Her message was echoed by several other regents as they gave initial comments on tuition proposals that will be developed in May and June.
Many regents seemed to favor modest increases — only Regent Jerry Boettcher gave specific figures, saying he likely would support increases of 2 to 3 percent.
Other regents said it was too early to give out specific figures — a message echoed by Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway.
Hemenway said KU would not be able to develop a firm tuition plan until it knew how much money the university was getting from the state.
“You don’t set tuition until you know the situation with the Legislature,” he said.
Higher education has been targeted for cuts, and the reductions could be magnified after adjustments to the budget are made in April following income tax receipts.
“I’m literally scared to death at what’s going to happen when tax season is over,” said Regent Gary Sherrer.
He called for institutions to prioritize programs, getting rid of programs that may seem attractive, but can’t be maintained in tough economic times.
He praised KU’s efforts at making its National Cancer Institute designation a priority, saying universities should strive for programs that could change the face of Kansas.
Regent Dan Lykins said universities did well to involve students during the last round of tuition adjustments.
“I hope there’s even more student involvement than there was last time,” he said, saying that some students could be willing to pay more if they knew it meant they could get a high-quality education.
In other business on Thursday, the regents:
l Approved a policy that would allow universities to provide a one-time lump sum payment for unclassified staff who are nearing retirement but don’t wish to retire because of health care costs.
Representatives from universities said the policy would be used rarely, and the amount of the payment would be negotiated on an individual basis.
KU Provost Richard Lariviere said the policy should be looked at as a management tool.
The policy could potentially cut costs if the newly opened positions were not filled.
l Approved a plan for two new programs at KU, one that would reorganize the School of Fine Arts into a School of Music and a separate School of Arts under the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
The plan would not affect current students, and would go into effect on July 1.
Also, regents approved creation of a new master’s program in African and African-American Studies at KU. Neither program would require new state funding.
Still, Sherrer, who supported both programs, argued for restraint in the future.
“We really can’t get into this thing where we’re always adding and never subtracting,” he said, calling on universities to look hard at their programs for the coming year. “We’ve got to do the full math.”
l Heard an update on an $825 million backlog in deferred maintenance for its university campuses statewide. Though many regents acknowledged new funding for this year was unlikely, they said that doesn’t make the problem go away.
“This is a very serious problem,” Boettcher said. “We’re in spitting distance of a billion dollars. That will get people’s attention, and I hope it does.”