Kansas regents criticize budget cuts, hear requests for tuition increases

After lashing out at Kansas legislators on Thursday for cutting higher education funding, the Board of Regents heard requests for tuition increases from all six universities it oversees.

Kansas State University proposed a 6.7 percent increase in tuition and fees for full-time undergraduate students who are Kansas residents, from $4,023.30 per semester to $4,292.70.

The University of Kansas proposed a 4.4 percent increase, to $4,638.80 per semester. But 65 percent of KU’s returning undergraduates, who locked in their four-year tuition rate as freshmen, won’t see any increase.

“Both K-State and KU students are paying more to fund higher education than the state of Kansas, which is not fair,” said Regent Dan Lykins of Topeka. As of 2011, 59.8 percent of what it cost to educate a Kansas student at KU was paid for by tuition.

Regent Vice Chair Fred Logan of Leawood praised KU for keeping its proposed increase under 5 percent, and he joined other regents in slamming the Legislature for approving an “irresponsible” budget.

“It’s never good public policy to cut higher education,” Logan said. “This is a public policy nightmare.”

Regent Robba Moran of Hays said, “We have a Legislature that doesn’t value education. If you want outstanding universities, you have to pay for them.”

The regents urged Gov. Sam Brownback to try to restore the funding in the next legislative session. University officials said they would try to hold the line until then.

“We have to get through this impasse and allow the governor to turn this around come January,” KU Provost Jeff Vitter said.

The governor’s office had no response to the regents’ hope that funding would be restored next year, but said it was reviewing the final budget and would respond publicly soon.

All the university officials who spoke at Thursday’s special regents meeting said the tuition increases they were seeking would not cover their losses in state funding. Some said they would have to see tuition go up 12 percent to cover the loss.

Here’s how much tuition and fees would go up for in-state undergraduates at the other Regents schools: Pittsburg State University, 7.5 percent to $2,953; Wichita State University, 8.1 percent, to $3,463; Emporia State University, 6.5 percent, to $2,807; and Fort Hays State, 3 percent, to $2,179.

Regents are set to vote on the increases at their next two-day meeting, which is scheduled for June 19 and 20.

Andy Tompkins, president and CEO of the board, said the state budget cuts came to the universities so late they had to scramble to make changes in tuition recommendations in time for regents to review their proposals. Usually, Tompkins said, requests for tuition hikes come in May. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Legislators finished their work early Sunday on the $14.5 billion state budget for each of fiscal years 2014 and 2015, imposing a 1.5 percent cut to higher education in each year.

Regents and university officials expressed frustration about efforts they’ve made in recent years to increase the number of engineers and doctors to improve the state’s economy and to graduate more people with vocational and technical certificates to meet the demands of industries.

They said state cuts have put those initiatives at risk, and they called for state business leaders to pressure legislators for more support of higher education.

“Business leaders in this state should be marching on the capital,” said Regent Christine Downey-Schmidt of Inman.

Regents said the state cuts, especially an overall $10 million chunk out of salaries, hit the KU Medical Center and K-State extension particularly hard.

“You have to think that someone in leadership has something against KU Med,” Emert said. The Legislature cut KU Med by $8.3 million over two years. University officials had contemplated closing the Salina medical campus and shrinking the Wichita medical campus, but legislators have said that can’t happen.

Vitter said the Med Center, which has only 3,000 students, relies heavily on state support. “There is no way to raise tuition enough to cover that loss,” he said.

KU medical student tuition rates would increase 5.4 percent to $15,487 for Kansas residents.

Doug Girod, executive vice chancellor of the medical school, said his doctors graduate with an average $142,000 debt.