Fort Hays State, Cowley County college team up to offer $15K bachelor’s degrees
Topeka ? Fort Hays State University and Cowley County Community College announced Friday that they are teaming up to offer two kinds of bachelor’s degrees that students can earn in four years or less at a total cost of less than $15,000.
But Kansas Board of Regents officials cautioned that the low rates may not last if they are forced to raise tuition rates this spring in response to decreased funding from the state.
The two schools announced the program Friday during a news conference with Gov. Sam Brownback, who challenged the state’s higher education community to come up with such a program during his State of the State address in January.
“The challenge kept a single goal in mind: to keep tuition down for our students,” Brownback said Friday. “Many told us it could not be done, that it was simply impossible for a Kansas student to get a college degree for $15,000 or less. Yet today, I’m standing here with representatives from our colleges to tell you that the challenge has been accepted.”
The program, dubbed “Tiger to Tiger” because both schools’ mascots are the Tigers, offers bachelor’s degrees in education and technological leadership.
Dennis Rittle, president of Cowley County Community College, said the education degree would require students to spend their first two years at the community college, followed by two years at FHSU.
According to information from Cowley County college, the total cost of the education degree, including tuition, books and fees at both schools would actually be $16,045 for Kansas students from outside Cowley County.
But Cowley County students in the program are eligible for a $2,000 scholarship at FHSU if they finish the first two years with a grade point average of at least 3.0, or a $3,000 scholarship for those with a GPA of 3.5 or better.
Brownback said he still wants other colleges and universities to develop what he called “new pathways” to degrees at lower costs in order to reduce the amount of debt students take out for college expenses.
“Student debt is the fastest-growing area of debt in America and has now passed credit card debt,” he said. “This is a major issue across this nation.”
But higher education officials in Kansas and elsewhere say the major reason for that has been that state support for public colleges and universities has not kept pace with rising costs, and in some states funding has even been cut, forcing them to increase tuition.
Brownback last year ordered a 4 percent across-the-board cut to higher education as part of an allotment cut package to balance this year’s budget, and his proposed budget for the next two years does not call for restoring those funds.
At the University of Kansas, that translated to a loss of more than $10 million to both the Lawrence and KU Medical Center campuses.
Brownback blamed that on revenue shortfalls, which he says are the result of low commodity prices in the agriculture sector of the economy.
“As you know, I ran on stable funding, base funding, and we did that most years, but we’ve hit this wreck in commodity prices and we don’t have the resources,” he said. “K-12 is generally off the issues, as far as cuts. That’s half of the budget, as you know. Medicaid is on autopilot. It’s people that are signing up, and we’ve had 25 percent growth in Medicaid. And we had a pension system that was in (financial trouble) that’s not there now. But that took a lot of resources.”
Board of Regents president and CEO Blake Flanders commended the two schools for coming up with the program and noted that 63 percent of college students in Kansas graduate with some level of debt, averaging about $25,000 per student.
But speaking with reporters after the news conference, he said the Regents’ top priority this legislative session is to restore the 4 percent cut from last year, and he said without additional resources, the board may need to raise tuition rates again this spring, which could put the cost of the program above $15,000.
“We’d have to consider everything,” he said. “If the restoration doesn’t happen, we want to be able to ensure our institutions are still able to offer quality programs. So that will be a tough decision.”