Aerial view of WSU’s Innovation Campus
Tiara Floyd can hardly go a day without talking to someone at the University of Kansas about the rising cost of attending the state’s flagship university.
“Of course, students don’t want to see tuition rise, but every year it does. And every year it deters people from coming back or even coming to begin with,” said Floyd, the KU student body president.
KU, Kansas State University and Wichita State University want to again raise tuition rates for undergraduates.
For some schools, the proposed increases unveiled Wednesday are the smallest in decades. But the Kansas Board of Regents, which must ultimately sign off on any increases, is under pressure from lawmakers to keep tuition flat.
KU and WSU both want a 1 percent tuition increase for students who are Kansas residents. K-State seeks a 3.1 percent hike.
KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said the 1 percent increase was the smallest the university had sought since at least 1983. WSU Interim President Andy Tompkins said the request was the smallest for his institution in 30 years.
Pittsburg State University and Fort Hays State University asked for no tuition increase. Emporia State University seeks a 2.5 percent increase.
Some regents appeared frustrated by the requests as they met in Topeka. The board will vote on increases in June and it’s unclear whether there are enough votes to approve them.
Gov. Laura Kelly just last week called on the regents to hold the line.
“We have got to do something about rising tuition costs. We are pricing kids, families out of our higher education system. So if it’s at all possible, I would like them to address that,” Kelly said.
The proposed increases come a few days after the Legislature approved a funding boost of $33 million for higher education next year. It’s the biggest jump in years following several rounds of cuts, including a $30 million reduction in 2016.
“Right now I’m not thrilled about the prospects of trying to convince the Legislature next year to give us more money when I believe they are going to feel like they were ambushed,” Regent Mark Hutton told university leaders.
The cost of attending a public university in Kansas has risen significantly over the past decade. A full credit load of 15 hours at the University of Kansas or Wichita State University now costs about 50 percent more than in 2009.
KU tuition and required fees per semester rose from $3,706.85 in 2009 to $5,573.95 in 2019. At WSU, tuition and fees jumped from $2,733.50 to $4,135.48.
And students now provide more funding for Kansas universities through tuition than lawmakers do.
Under the proposed rates, Kansas university students will pay $732 million in tuition next year, while the state will provide $626 million in funding.
Rep. Tom Phillips, the Republican vice chair of the House Higher Education Budget Committee, said university administrators are trying to consider students while balancing maintenance and salary needs.
University leaders said their institutions continue to face difficulties after years of cuts.
“We’re all pretty good at belt-tightening. We’re kind of running out of belt at this point,” Girod said. KU made a $20 million reduction this year, he noted.
K-State President Richard Myers said his university needs to make significant changes after enrollment declines and work to attract more students. He said K-State has cut its operating budget $37 million over the past five years and expects another $10 million cut in the future.
Regent Ann Brandau-Murguia said the board’s staff had come to an unwritten agreement with lawmakers that the regents would keep tuition flat if the Legislature provided more money.
“I used to hate this when my parents used to say this to me, but sometimes you’ve just got to work harder and I don’t think anybody else is going to say that but me. So I’m a zero,” Brandau-Murguia said, appearing to signal her opposition to a tuition increase.
Hutton said he is convinced that a tuition increase this year will harm what the board can do next year. He spoke about trying to weigh a long-term perspective with the immediate needs of the universities.
Dennis Mullin, who chairs the board, admitted to mixed emotions about the request. He urged regents and university leaders to meet with lawmakers over the next month to explain why some of the institutions need more.
“If you guys do not mobilize,” Mullin told university leaders, “if you have an increase in your budget and you can’t share and mobilize that message to our key legislators over the next 30 days, I will be shocked if you will get that past this board.”
Contributing: Dion Lefler of The Eagle