When it comes to higher education, officials at Kansas University apparently subscribe to the philosophy that “you get what you pay for” while continuing to hope that KU students will believe that the education they receive justifies the ever-increasing tuition they pay.
On Thursday, the Kansas Board of Regents will consider tuition rates for the six state universities for the 2012-13 academic year. Once again, KU is requesting one of the highest percentage tuition increases in the state system. And, once again, perhaps over some moderate protest from a regent or two, that request probably will be approved.
For once, the 6.2 percent increase KU is seeking in basic tuition for undergraduates who are Kansas residents is not the highest in the state. That honor goes to Emporia State University at 6.9 percent and Pittsburg State University at 6.8 percent. However, both of the smaller schools still are charging in-state tuition that is about half of what KU charges.
Those figures also don’t include the burdensome course fees that jack up tuition bills at KU. Undergraduate course fees ranging from $21 to $112 per hour already have been approved for the 2012-13 school year at KU. Those fees — charged in every school except the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — will rise steadily through the 2015-16 school year, at which time KU officials are requesting additional increases of 5.5 percent to 6 percent across the board.
The state’s three smaller universities — Emporia, Pittsburg and Fort Hays — charge no extra course fees and, unlike KU, Wichita State and Kansas State proposed no increases for 2015-16. Once the fees are figured in, KU’s percentage of increase for overall tuition bills easily surpasses those at all other state universities.
Every year, KU officials say they simply can’t maintain the quality of education at the university without the additional funds and that tuition increases are supported by students, who value that quality. It’s true that state support for its universities has steadily eroded in recent years, but using tuition increases as the primary way to offset that loss is tough on students and their families. The percentage of tuition increases for next year is two to three times the nation’s current rate of inflation.
It seems university officials are satisfied for higher education to become more and more an opportunity reserved for high-income families or students with elite academic credentials who can earn scholarship assistance. Rising tuition rates are putting higher education out of reach for many above-average students who don’t have above-average financial resources.
Does KU care about those students? Year after year of tuition increases that are well ahead of the inflation rate — as well as out of reach for many students and families — make us wonder.