Regents order universities to retool tuition proposals

Tuition and fees combined can increase no more than 3.6 percent, board says

TOPEKA — The Kansas Board of Regents, in response to a legislative decision, sent university leaders back to the drawing board with orders to adjust tuition proposals on Wednesday.

Kansas University and its five fellow state universities were asked to tweak proposals so that tuition and fees combined would increase no more than 3.6 percent for the upcoming academic year.

The Board of Regents is expected to receive updated proposals and vote to approve them Thursday morning.

In an atypical move at the finale of the recent record-long session, the Kansas Legislature ordered tuition increases for fiscal year 2016 capped at inflation plus 2 percent, or a total of 3.6 percent.

On Wednesday morning, all six Regents universities released proposals to increase tuition for in-state undergraduate students by the maximum 3.6 percent.

Some universities compensated for revenue shortfalls by upping fees, boosting the total amount a student would pay to over 3.6 percent more than the previous year.

KU’s initial proposal — for one — priced standard tuition and fees at $5,092 per semester, an increase of $238 or 4.9 percent from last year.

However, Board of Regents members said the 3.6 percent cap should include both tuition and fees because that’s what the Legislature intended, in the letter of the law and in the spirit.

“I think we would be making a mistake for it to even appear that we’re attempting to circumvent that,” Regent Fred Logan said.

Several university presidents expressed frustration at the Legislature’s cap.

In recent years, nearly all the schools increased tuition by significantly more than 3.6 percent, according to numbers provided by the Board of Regents.

At KU tuition went up 4.9 percent in 2014-15, 5 percent in 2013-14, 5.1 percent in 2012-13, 6.2 percent in 2011-12 and 9.2 percent in 2010-11.

Regent Shane Bangerter said he understood the schools leaders’ “consternation.”

“While it is not easy and it certainly is not something we would have chosen, we feel it necessary to stick with the 3.6 percent cap,” Bangerter said. “It’s somewhat with a bit of heaviness that I make that recommendation.”

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said KU will continue to offer a “compact” tuition rate to incoming freshmen.

Freshmen who choose the slightly more expensive — at least initially — compact rate instead of the standard tuition option get their price locked in for four years, even as standard tuition goes up annually.

“It’s set at a slightly higher rate than they originally would have been paying,” Gray-Little said. “But by the time they finish, it will be a slightly lower rate.”