On June 25, Kansas higher education officials approved tuition increases at all regents universities, including a 6 percent increase at Kansas University for many students, and a 7 percent increase on the four-year compact for incoming freshmen.
The action occurred one day after Oklahoma higher education officials approved freezing tuition and fees at their schools, saying the freeze was needed to help struggling families in the current economy.
That prompted questions from some readers on how Oklahoma can hold the line on tuition but Kansas can’t?
The short answer is that the Oklahoma Legislature treated its higher education system better than the Kansas Legislature treated its system.
There are many ways to count higher education dollars, but taking into account federal stimulus dollars, Oklahoma higher education officials say their system actually experienced a 3 percent increase in funding.
In Kansas, including federal stimulus funding, higher education has fallen from $829 million in fiscal year 2008 to an $805 million appropriation in the current fiscal year, which is fiscal year 2010, according to the Kansas Legislative Research Department. That is about a 3 percent cut. But that cut has since gotten deeper because of Gov. Mark Parkinson’s budget allotments of last week, when he cut higher education another 2 percent.
And the picture gets even darker for Kansas higher education because regents universities have been told to direct two-thirds of stimulus funds for deferred maintenance projects. Oklahoma has more freedom in using its federal stimulus funds.
Still, the cost of OU is less than KU. In-state undergraduates taking a standard load of 30 credit hours over two semesters will pay $6,493 in tuition and fees, according to The Associated Press. At KU, that cost will be $7,414 for many students, and $8,204 for freshmen, although that freshman rate will be locked in for four years.
But Jack Martin, deputy director of KU’s Office of University Communications, said the AP report left out a mandatory $930 “academic excellence fee” at OU. That makes costs more similar.
On a side note, OU President David Boren said the athletic department at OU raised its annual support for academic programs from $4 million to more than $7 million. What is that figure at KU? According to Martin, “Overall, net support and benefits provided by Kansas Athletics to the university totaled $11.8 million in FY 2009. This total includes the tuition Kansas Athletics pays for student athletes’ academic expenses. A large number of these student-athletes are from out of state, meaning their nonresident tuition helps subsidize the education of Kansas students.”
With the effects of state budget cuts getting more serious, one reader commented that it’s time to consider a tax increase. “In that way, we would all pitch in and do our parts to eliminate this crisis,” he said in an e-mail.
Indeed, Kansas has cut taxes significantly in recent years, and continues to do so even in the face of drastic budget cuts. But the political reality is that an overwhelming majority of state elected officials have no appetite to increase taxes. Even so, there are some who make strong arguments for tax increases.
In a recent interview with KTKA-TV in Topeka, Gov. Mark Parkinson said, “Raising taxes is not a good thing to do in a recession because it drains money from the system at a time when the system needs money flowing to keep the economy going.”
But after last week, when Parkinson cut public schools and higher education another 2 percent to balance the budget, Parkinson said a tax increase may need to be among options, if state revenues don’t recover over the next year.