Kansas regents tell universities to get creative with funding

? With the cost of public higher education increasing and state tax support decreasing, Kansas Regents officials on Thursday told university leaders to keep searching for new ways to raise funds.

Looking back at previous cuts in state funding to higher education and forward to little or no increase in the foreseeable future, Regent Dan Lykins of Topeka described it as a “sad issue.”

“We’re in reverse, and it looks like we are going to be in reverse for five years,” said Lykins, of Topeka.

The five-year time period referred to a statement by Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director Steve Anderson, who told the regents that state funding of higher education would stay flat or increase only slightly over the next five years.

Regents Vice Chair Ed McKechnie, of Arcadia, called that the “doomsday budget” and one that higher education institutions in Kansas should prepare for by finding ways to better market and deliver their product, such as the use of more online course offerings.

A flat budget future follows two years of substantial cuts during the recession that totaled approximately $100 million, or 12 percent.

The budget that starts July 1 includes an estimated 1.4 percent cut, but additional mandates and increased operating costs will make that cut even deeper, school officials said.

Proposed tuition and fee increases for this fall, they said, were required to bridge gaps, sustain needed programs and make some improvements.

“We want to make an effort to enhance quality wherever we can,” said Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.

KU is seeking a $14 million increase in tuition and fees.

That translates into a semester hike from $4,012 to $4,234, a $222 or 5.5 percent increase for an undergraduate taking 15 hours. The nonresident tuition will increase from $9,504 to $10,179, a $675 increase or 7.1 percent.

Tuition and fees under the KU Compact — for first-time, degree-seeking freshmen — would be fixed for four years would increase from $4,366 to $4,611, or $245, which is a 5.6 percent increase.

If the proposed increases are approved, Gray-Little said KU would remain a bargain. KU ranked 28th in tuition and fees out of 35 public universities that are members of the Association of American Universities, she said.

Under KU’s proposal, the increased revenue would be used to cover the cost of unfunded mandates, provide targeted pay increases to retain top faculty and staff, and expand high-demand course offerings.

Gray-Little said “raids on faculty” from schools across the country were increasing.

All the regents schools were seeking increases. For a resident undergraduate, the increase at Kansas State would be 3.8 percent; Wichita State, 5.1 percent; Emporia State, 6.8 percent; Pittsburg State, 6.5 percent; and Fort Hays State, 3.6 percent.

Kansas State President Kirk Shulz said the $6.6 million tuition increase wouldn’t “meet all the needs that we have going into the next year.”

And he noted that more students were having trouble paying their bills on time.

“The most distressing thing about those statistics is that more of them are first-generation (college students) and under-represented minorities,” he said.