Tuition clock

Four-year tuition compacts work fine for Kansas University students who complete degrees in four years but not so well for the 64 percent who do not.

March 1, 2012


Some recently reported figures on student retention at Kansas University again raise questions about exactly who reaps the greatest benefit from KU’s four-year tuition compacts.

In his Heard on the Hill column on LJWorld.com, Journal-World reporter Andy Hyland notes that, according to U.S. News and World Reports, a number of other colleges have started offering tuition compacts similar to the one initiated at KU in 2007. KU’s program takes four years of tuition, including predicted increases, divides that number by four to determine the average and then pledges to charge incoming freshmen that average tuition each year for the next four years. The guarantee means that the students will be paying a higher tuition rate than other students in their freshman year, but probably less than standard tuition by their senior year.

It’s been a popular program with parents because they know what they’ll be paying. Indeed, for freshmen who complete a degree in the allotted four years, the tuition pact probably is a good deal. Unfortunately, life often doesn’t work that way.

Hyland noted that by the end of 2007-08 school year, 21 percent of the freshmen had dropped out. Because they, like all freshmen, were required to participate in the tuition compact, they overpaid for their freshman year and won’t be eligible to re-enter the compact program if they return to KU. The same is true for any student who drops out during the four-year compact period. By paying the average compact tuition, they frontload the costs of their education. There is no provision for any refunds if students drop out; the university just keeps that overpayment.

Only about 36 percent of the freshmen who entered KU in 2007 completed degrees in four years. Another 30 percent who returned for a fifth year also arguably got their money’s worth out of the compact although they faced a 20 percent tuition increase when they returned to school. KU officials had hoped the tuition compacts would be a strong incentive to finish a degree in four years, but for those 30 percent, it apparently didn’t provide enough motivation.

KU always has presented the tuition impact as a budgeting tool, not a cost-cutting measure. Maybe families of KU students are willing to pay more at the front end — and risk losing tuition money — for the security that the tuition compacts provide, but it seems unfair to require all freshmen to enter into the four-year compacts whether they want to or not.

In the continuing drive to control the costs of higher education, KU and other colleges and universities across the country are likely to try a variety of tuition schemes. Compact tuition has been a popular program at KU, but some of that enthusiasm may be wearing off as too many students fail to complete degrees before the four-year clock runs out.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

Graduating in four years is a fine goal, but for most folks, reality happens on the way to getting there. There's no shame in taking an extra year or two to get a degree.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 3 months ago

"taking an extra year or two to get a degree."

I have to laugh at that!

I began college in the fall of 1972, starting at Fort Hays Kansas State University, and later transferred to the University of Kansas. I also attended two community colleges, Colby Community College, and The Evening University of San Diego, California, in my spare time. On a whim, I almost took one summer class at the University of New York at Stony Brook. Now I certainly do wish I had, to round out the geography of my education, if nothing else.

In January of 1986 a very traumatic event in my life occurred, and I gave up after completing one class that summer. After finishing that class, I lacked 5 classes, that is, about 15 semester hours for an Electrical Engineering degree.

So, after attending college for 14 years I still had no degree, although I had completed approximately 165 semester hours. That is enough hours for a Bachelor's degree, a Master's degree, and a bit of a start at a PhD.

A few people have asked me, "How did you do that?"

And I never know how to answer, except to say that I sure did do a whole lot of things other than attend classes during that 14 years.

But sometimes I do point out what happened in the spring of 1979. I was sick and tired of college, and decided to graduate and leave. I applied for and was accepted into the B.G.S. program, which was offered for the last time that spring semester. I needed 2 classes, and one of them I wouldn't have needed if I had ever bothered to have a transcript sent from San Diego Evening College.

And I dropped out that semester! If I had that transcript sent from California, the only thing I would have needed for the B.G.S. degree was:

One class in English.

streetman 6 years, 3 months ago

Only 36 percent earning a four year degree in four years should not be considered acceptable. Didn't used to be this bad. Needing an "extra year or two" suggests two things: 1) many aren't ready (or shouldn't even attend) (seriously -- remedial admission courses AFTER admission??), or 2) many students simply aren't trying hard enough. One would think that the tuition compact would be a kick in the butt to get the job done. Maybe the parents should do a little more kicking, too.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

There are lots of reasons that not every person fits into the slot you want to force them. And you didn't list any of them (no surprise.)

valgrlku 6 years, 3 months ago

Agreed. Some of the reasons for not graduating in four: 1) changing majors (if you take one semester to take a different major's requirements, you're definitely not graduating in 4 years), 2) personal/family illness/death, 3) KU's ridiculous amount of required general education courses (now under review), 4) classes not being offered or open, 5) course prerequisites (see #4 to further complicate that), and 5) more students paying their own way - meaning that time that could be spent on studying and "trying hard enough" just isn't there, or students can't afford the full 15 hr/semester enrollment. Many students work 20-40 hours a week and are downright exhausted.

Summer school is also expensive, and course offerings are often scant, so trying to "make-up" time is difficult as well. Most people who I know that graduated in four? Their parents paid their way, and they never worked a day while at university. Should one graduate in four, if that is the case? Absolutely. Otherwise, it can be almost impossible to do so.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

Thanks for making the list.

And I'll add one more-- 18-year-olds are still kids, away from home for the first time. As much as others, who have forgotten what it's like to be in that position at that age, want it to be otherwise, not everyone is going to be as responsible or productive as they will be after a year or two on their own.

dcnusong 6 years, 3 months ago

It also suggests tuition is very expensive. So if you hope to graduate without a huge student loan debt, you do the best you can, that doesn't always look like 16-18 hours per semester.

Jack Martin 6 years, 3 months ago

This editorial contains an error. Students who leave and then return are still eligible to pay their original compact rate. This is described in the Tuition Compact FAQs at http://affordability.ku.edu

"What happens if a student leaves KU during the four-year period and comes back later?"

Such a student will continue to pay the same fixed tuition rate. For example, a student enters KU in August 2011 but withdraws the following year. If that student re-enters KU in fall 2013, s/he will pay the 2011 Freshman fixed tuition rate, until it expires in July 2016. http://affordability.ku.edu/cs/compact.shtml

d_prowess 6 years, 3 months ago

For those not in the know... it seems the LJW editorial writer just got taken to school!

Ann Gardner 6 years, 3 months ago

Thanks for the clarification, Jack. My understanding is that they can re-enter the program within the four-year period, but the compact tuition rate runs out after four years regardless of how many semesters they've been enrolled.

Greg Cooper 6 years, 3 months ago

Better to belong to the church of the godless than your church of the clueless.

booyalab 6 years, 3 months ago

It's not exploitation if it's for a "good cause". (that is, making us debt slaves to the federal government and filling our heads with liberal rhetoric)

parrothead8 6 years, 3 months ago

If you can explain how academic institutions are supposed to achieve the same (or better) results despite receiving less funding than they got five years ago, then I'll explain to you why capitalists are evil.

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