Questions currently being raised about the use of special course fees in the Kansas University School of Business also raise questions about how money raised by so-called “differential tuition” is being used in other KU schools.
Every professional school at KU collects additional per-hour fees for the courses they teach, ranging from $16.50 per hour in the School of Journalism to $211.50 in the School of Law. Only the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences doesn’t charge the per-hour fees.
Differential tuition first appeared on KU’s radar screen 20 years ago when the School of Engineering received approval from the Kansas Board of Regents to charge an additional $15 per credit hour to buy up-to-date equipment needed by students. By 2004, the schools of law, pharmacy and architecture also were charging differential tuition and the schools of business, education, journalism and fine arts were seeking permission to do the same.
At that time, the schools listed a variety of uses for the tuition money. Fine arts wanted to pay for facility renovations, staff positions and student services. Journalism wanted to use the money for technology improvements. Education said its money would to go student scholarships and increased pay for teachers who supervise student teachers. Business wanted to add majors and faculty positions and boost career advising as well as devote more money to scholarships.
All of the schools said they were responding to student demands and had student support for the fees. Now, however, some students are saying they aren’t convinced the money is being used as it was intended.
If the justification for differential tuition is to provide a better educational experience for students, some questions arise. Increased enrollment may be great for the school but it doesn’t necessarily mean each student is receiving better educational opportunities than before. Using the fees to provide more scholarships takes money from students who can afford to pay full tuition and gives it those who cannot, but does it provide a better education for anyone?
Graduate students in the business school have pointed out that a student advisory committee that was supposed to help oversee the use of fee money had been allowed to lapse. What is the situation in other schools that charge the per-hour fees?
The fees are supposed to be “student driven” but KU’s website already is listing projected increases in the course fees for the next three academic years. The fees are scheduled to go up 6 percent across the board for the 2011-12 school year and another 4 percent for 2012-13. A footnote on the fee chart indicates: “With student support, course fees can be increased beyond the rates listed.” How is that “student support” measured? Did students have a chance to vote on the increases that already are listed? Even if they were, the vote wouldn’t have included many students who weren’t in the school at the time but still will be paying the fees. There’s no reason that the per-hour special fees necessarily should rise along with general tuition rates.
In the last decade, overall KU tuition has skyrocketed due to increased costs and state legislators who apparently are placing less value on supporting an affordable higher education system in Kansas. On top of that, university officials have instituted — and the regents have approved — a whole supplemental tuition system in the form of special course fees collected by individual schools.
It’s all in the name of providing a high quality education to students, KU officials say, but students can only benefit from that “quality” if they can afford to enroll.