It really isn’t surprising that an audit report compiled by Kansas University has concluded that the $76 million in differential tuition funds that KU has spent over the last eight years has been used appropriately and greatly benefitted KU students.
The audit, which was ordered after a group of KU MBA students questioned the use of differential tuition funds in the School of Business, examined the process, priorities and expenditures of each KU school that charges the special fees. Although the university is satisfied with the answers they received in each of those categories, other people may not agree.
In the “process” category, the audit looked at how schools went about establishing differential tuition, with a special emphasis on how they sought student input on the fees. In most cases, the school depended on input from student advisory boards or perhaps a handful of student meetings. The School of Engineering, for instance, cited “consultation with student organizations, faculty and various external advisory boards.” What form that “consultation” took or how many students were involved is unknown.
Under “priorities,” schools outlined how they planned to use their additional tuition money. New equipment and additional faculty were popular priorities for the school. Additional advising services and scholarships also were mentioned by several schools. (Shouldn’t schools be seeking additional scholarship money from private donors rather that collecting it from other students through higher tuition?) In all cases, the “priorities” were broad or vague enough to cover about anything the schools’ leadership would want to use the money for.
That brings us to the expenditures. The KU audit report provided an impressive list of programs, equipment, facilities, course offerings and other improvements that were funded through differential tuition and enhance the educational experience of KU students. It’s hard to tell from the spreadsheets they provided exactly which improvements were funded specifically by differential tuition.
The KU press release indicated that differential tuition has raised $76.3 million since 2003. However, that’s actually what the report said was the amount of differential tuition expenditures. The amount that was paid in differential tuition appears to be much larger. The accounting provided by the schools shows that some schools carried over more than $1 million in differential tuition for fiscal year 2011. The School of Engineering has accumulated $1.02 million during the six years it has charged differential tuition. The School of Business is carrying over $1.25 million.
Apparently anticipating questions about those carryovers, an asterisked note at the bottom of each budget spreadsheet informs the reader: “The carry forward amount each year should not be construed as a budget surplus. Carry forwards are common, responsible budgetary practice.”
Perhaps, but it also suggests that KU may not really need as much differential tuition money as it is collecting. Differential tuition rates were rising by 4 percent each year until FY 2008, when increases rose to 6 percent each year. KU officials justify those raises as keeping pace with overall tuition raises at the university, but why must the two rise together? It would make more sense to hold down differential tuition when students are facing overall tuition increases.
According to the KU audit, differential tuition is a big success. That certainly is the message KU officials want to send to the Kansas Board of Regents who must sign off each year on the special fees. Despite the rosy picture the audit paints, the case in favor of differential tuition doesn’t seem entirely closed.
The entire university has benefited from the courage, tenacity and knowledge demonstrated by the business school MBA students who exposed questionable practices including terrible accounting and the lack of oversight by the dean and senior university officials.