Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tuition, fees going up; regents blame Legislature

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — Higher education officials on Wednesday approved raising university tuition, blaming legislators who cut post-secondary education for much of the increased cost of going to school.

For Kansas University, effective this fall semester, tuition and fees will increase 4.4 percent at the Lawrence campus, and 7.6 percent at KU Medical Center for Kansas residents. Non-resident students will see a 4.7 percent increase in Lawrence and 6 percent increase at KUMC.

However, since KU operates under a tuition compact, in which entering freshmen keep the same tuition rate for four years, most returning KU undergraduates will not be affected by the tuition increase.

The Kansas Board of Regents approved increases at KU and the other five regents universities, and attributed a specific portion of each school's increase to cover recent legislative cuts to higher education.

"The Legislature is forcing us to do this," said regent Dan Lykins, of Topeka.

Both Republicans and Democrats on the board slammed the higher-education budget cuts, which were approved with only Republican votes in the Legislature. They said they feared the cuts could damage the Kansas economy.

"This is exactly the direction we don't want to take in this state," said Regent Vice Chairman Fred Logan, of Leawood.

Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law cuts to higher education that total $8.3 million to the KU Medical Center over two years and $5.3 million to the Lawrence and Edwards campuses.

"Cuts of this magnitude cannot be offset by tuition increases alone; however, increased tuition has to be part of the solution," KU officials wrote in their tuition proposal to the regents.

Logan and regent Kenny Wilk of Lansing said the cuts to the KU Medical Center were especially troubling because they could result in fewer doctors and nurses and hurt the recruitment and retention of top faculty.

At Wilk's request, the regents approved a motion requesting that legislative leaders hold public hearings at each of the schools to learn more about the complexities of their budgets.

Lykins said surrounding states were increasing higher education funding. The Kansas Legislature, he said, "made some really poor choices."

But conservative Republican legislators have questioned whether universities are being run efficiently and have criticized the schools for raising tuition.

Marcus Tetwiler, president of the KU student body, said the increasing cost of school was pricing students out of going to KU. Tetwiler, a Paola senior, blamed legislators and said students needed to organize and register to vote.

"It's up to us to hold our legislators accountable," he said. He said students need to "take a hard look at the legislators behind this and ask them 'Why?'"

The tuition increases will generate $7.8 million for the Lawrence campus. Nearly $2.6 million will go into a merit pool that will provide a 2 percent average pay increase for key faculty and staff, and another $2.6 million will be used to offset some of the budget cuts.

In its tuition request, KU said it has lost key leaders to other schools that are increasing funding.

The tuition increases at the medical center will generate almost $1.8 million and be used to cover required expenditures such as faculty promotions, utility costs, and budget cuts.