The University of Kansas’ 2.5 percent tuition increase, approved Thursday by the Board of Regents, seems like a bargain compared with recent years. In fact, it’s half the 5 percent increase the university implemented for the 2016-17 school year.
But before undergraduates start celebrating, consider that the Kansas economy has been growing at an annual rate of less than 1 percent, and the tuition increase from 2015-16 to 2016-17 was nearly twice the rate of wage growth in the state. Overall, tuition at four-year public colleges and universities in Kansas has increased 21 percent from 2012-13 to 2016-17, the 12th-largest tuition increase among the 50 states.
Any tuition increase is difficult; increases that so rapidly outpace wage and income growth are especially burdensome, especially on middle-class families. The end result is that KU students are taking on increasing amounts of debt to finance their educations.
Already, KU and Kansas State University students graduate with more debt than their peer universities in the region, according to Student Loan Report, which analyzed student loan debt of 2015 graduates for public and private schools throughout the country.
On average, KU graduates in the class of 2015 had $14,296 in debt. Fifty-two percent of KU graduates had student loan debt. Kansas State was similar: 58 percent of graduates had student loan debt and the average amount was $14,963. Among Big 12 schools, graduates of Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU finished with less debt than Kansas and Kansas State. Only Texas Tech, West Virginia and Iowa State graduates had more debt. Baylor wasn’t included in the data.
Other state schools in the region with fewer indebted graduates and lower debt on average include Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas A&M; and the University of Illinois.
For the 2017-18 academic year, KU will charge $4,908 per semester for in-state undergraduates, an increase of about $120 over last year. That’s not all; student fees will increase more than $500 per semester.
Given continued decreases in state funding, it’s not surprising that KU and other universities continue to push the upper limits of tuition and fees. But there is a limit to what Kansas families can afford, and the rising indebtedness among graduates is a concerning indicator that KU is nearing that limit.