TOPEKA – Most students at state universities in Kansas will see tuition and fees increase by no more than 3.6 percent this fall because the board overseeing the higher education system was strict Thursday in applying a cap on tuition rates imposed by the Legislature.
Tuition increases were limited this year in exchange for keeping state funding for higher education flat despite the state’s budget problems. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback this week signed legislation increasing sales and cigarette taxes as part of a larger package expected to raise an estimated $384 million during the fiscal year beginning July 1 to avert a deficit.
The cap limits tuition increases to 2 percentage points above inflation as measured by the consumer price index, or 3.6 percent for this fall. The cap doesn’t specifically apply to student fees – such as those for activities, health services or libraries – and some universities proposed increasing those charges so that some students would see their costs rise by as much as 6 percent.
But the regents voted unanimously Thursday to limit both tuition and fee increases to 3.6 percent, except for special fees at Fort Hays State University and Pittsburg State University approved in student votes. Regent Shane Bangerter, a Dodge City attorney, said discussions with legislators suggested they meant to limit increases in students’ total costs.
“We just felt that it would be completely incongruous to have a cap on tuition and then to, say, just come in and raise fees to compensate for whatever perceived loss we may have had,” Bangerter said after the board’s vote. “I think that would be directly contradictory to what a vast majority of the legislators thought they were doing.”
Regents have complained in previous years that the Republican-dominated Legislature forced them to rasie tuition to offset inadequate state funding. Lawmakers held state funding flat during the next fiscal year at $786 million.
The state’s budget problems arose after legislators aggressively cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging in an effort to stimulate the economy.
Several regents said stable state funding into the future is crucial for higher education. But Republican legislators also anticipate that Brownback will cut $50 million in spending to create a small cushion of cash reserves going into July 2016.
“We’re hoping to be kept whole,” said Regents Chairman Kenny Wilk, a former Kansas House member from Lansing.
The board made exceptions to the 3.6 percent limit on fee increases for a $30 charge to help finance several construction and renovation projects at Pittsburg State University and a $1.41-per-credit-hour fee at Fort Hays State University to finance athletic bands, intramural sports and a dance team.
State universities expect tuition and fees to generate about $728 million during the current fiscal year, and their initial proposals would have raised an additional $31 million more, according to documents from the regents. It wasn’t immediately clear how much the lesser increases would generate.
“We asked for the fees we felt we needed, and so we’re going to have to back and look where we tighten up,” Wichita State University President John Bardo said.