Setting tuition rates is a tricky balancing act for the Kansas Board of Regents and state university leaders.
As state support for universities has waned, higher education officials have struggled to maintain the quality of state universities and their faculty without placing too great a financial burden on students paying tuition at those schools.
This week, as the regents consider tuition increases for state universities, they have the added concern of how those schools could be affected if state revenues continue to fall significantly short of projections. If that trend continues, the state may not be able to meet its budget commitment to state universities and other state-funded entities for the current fiscal year.
Unfortunately, at the same time a college education has become even more important to career success in many fields, tuition continues to rise. That trend has hampered the ability of many students to attend college and left many college graduates drowning in debt.
The proposed increases in tuition and fees facing the Kansas regents this week are relatively modest, ranging from 2.5 percent at Fort Hays State University to 5.7 percent at Kansas State’s Salina campus. KU is seeking a 4.6 percent increase in its standard tuition and fees and a 3.4 percent increase in the compact tuition — the rate guaranteed to incoming freshmen for four years. Although KU’s tuition increase proposal isn’t the highest among state universities, its base annual tuition remains several hundred dollars higher than the next highest school, K-State.
These increases certainly aren’t inconsequential to students and their families. Incoming freshmen at KU will pay $5,224 a year in tuition and fees. Students can still attend Emporia State or Fort Hays State for under $3,000 a year, and it’s easy to see why students might choose one of those fine schools or a community college for the first year or two of higher education, just to save some money.
A regents committee that reviewed updated tuition requests last week expressed some concern about rising tuition but subsequently decided to let them stand and advance to the full board this week.
Regents’ concern about rising tuition and the impact it has on students and their families certainly is warranted — but so is concern about how Kansas universities can maintain their quality and retain their top faculty in a difficult state funding climate. As noted above, it’s a tough balancing act. The relatively modest tuition increases the regents will consider this week look like an acceptable middle ground.