Government & Politics

No tuition increase for many students at KU, K-State, Wichita State next year

Kansas college students are used to shelling out more and more for tuition.

They’re about to get a break.

After a series of past increases, undergraduate students from Kansas won’t pay more in tuition next year to attend state universities. The across-the-board rate freeze includes the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Wichita State University and other institutions.

The Kansas Board of Regents approved the flat rates Wednesday after pressure from Gov. Laura Kelly and lawmakers to hold down rising costs. The Legislature this spring approved a $33 million funding boost for higher education.

“We’ve got to stop that train somehow and the Legislature’s helped us this year,” Regent Bill Feuerborn said of rising tuition. “To keep that on track, I believe we need to be at zero.”

The flat rates marked a sharp turn from just a month ago, when several universities sought to increase undergraduate tuition rates for Kansas residents. Several regents in May appeared frustrated with the proposals and questioned whether lawmakers would approve more funding in the future if tuition keeps climbing.

The cost of attending a public university in Kansas has jumped over the past decade. A full credit load of 15 hours at the University of Kansas or Wichita State University costs about 50 percent more than in 2009. At the same time, state funding is more than $31 million lower than it was a decade ago, even after the recent bump.

“We need to do all we can to ease the burden of the soaring cost of college for students in Kansas. That’s why it’s necessary to protect the state revenue stream moving forward, so we can continue to invest in higher education, bring down tuition rates, and expand educational opportunities to even more Kansans in the future,” Kelly said in a statement applauding the regents’ decision.

On Wednesday, K-State still asked for a 1.5 percent increase – down from the 3.1 percent it originally requested. Over the past five years, the university has cuts it operating budget by $37 million.

But the regents rebuffed the request. Before the vote, university leadership suggested reductions may be coming.

Provost Chuck Taber said university officials have been instructed to prepare plans for a 4 percent reduction to their budgets as the tuition increase was reduced from 3.1 percent to 1.5 percent. He said the university may having to lay people off, but didn’t provide specifics.

“We’re pretty lean at this point. It’s pretty hard to find opportunities for efficiency cuts,” Taber said.

Jansen Penny, the K-State student body president, had supported a 1.5 percent increase. He said the university is at a “pivotal state” but added “it’s really hard to not be happy about what that means for cost affordability for students.”

“Small, incremental changes really do mean a lot, especially to students,” Penny said.

The Board of Regents vote means a semester of tuition for a full-time resident student at Kansas State University will be $4,687.50 next year; $5,046 at the University of Kansas; $3,354 at Wichita State University.

Some students will continue to pay more, however. Kansas residents going to graduate school will pay more at some places. Out-of-state undergraduate students also will see increases at some universities.

“I really believe that the entry level to the undergraduates is really the issue where the price point becomes much more of a concern than the graduate level where they can see the value of that graduate degree” helping their salary, said David Mullin, who chairs the Board of Regents.

Mullin said that when regents request more funding from lawmakers next year, they need to make clear how much tuition will rise without a boost.

Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.