TOPEKA — The Kansas Board of Regents gave the green light Wednesday for tuition hikes at the six state universities following news last month of a fresh wave of cuts to higher education funding.
The hikes take effect for the 2016-17 academic year and range from $107 per semester for a full-time resident undergraduate student at Fort Hays State University to $248 per semester at Kansas State University.
The increases are different for nonresident undergraduate students and for graduate students.
The Regents stood united in passing the higher tuition rates, but at least one, Ann Brandau-Murguia, made clear her frustration that the increases could price potential students out of an education.
“I would hope that you would continue to worry as much about accessibility to your universities and colleges for all students as you are concerned about staff raises and quality of education,” she told the university presidents. “I think that’s very important.”
The universities and Legislature should work together “to find the most cost-effective way to deliver a quality education to all Kansans,” she said.
Some Regents described the decision as simply necessary.
“I hate that we have to raise tuition at all,” Bill Feuerborn said. “But as indicated, if the state dollars are not there, they have to come from somewhere.”
Feuerborn said university leaders had managed to propose “very conservative” tuition hikes under difficult conditions.
The state universities first proposed hikes last month. Five of them steepened the increases after Gov. Sam Brownback unveiled a 4-percent cut — approximately $30 million — to higher education funding May 18. Brownback’s cuts are meant to help balance the state budget amid underperforming state revenue collections.
According to the Board of Regents, funding for the state’s post-secondary system for the coming academic year is down $38 million from what the Legislature and governor originally appropriated. That is nearly 5 percent, the agency says, with more than half coming from state university budgets.
The University of Kansas and K-State face steeper cuts percentage-wise than the other state universities.
K-State Interim President Richard Myers said his university is facing multiple challenges, including compensation.
“We’ve got issues with faculty we have to address,” Myers told the Regents. “If you want to keep outstanding faculty, you’ve got to increase salaries along the way, at least at some point. That’s already a concern because we haven’t been doing that.”
Other university leaders expressed similar concerns. The rising costs of utilities, health insurance and other needs, and the pressure to stay competitive to offer quality education repeatedly surfaced in statements to the Regents and media.
“As we look back over the last 10 years, we’re actually receiving less from the state than we did in 2006 and our costs are continuing to increase,” said Allison Garrett, president of Emporia State University. “We really do strive hard to keep the cost affordable to students.”
Gone are the days — in Kansas and many other states — when the state invested more dollars per student in higher education funding than universities charged in tuition and fees. This changed in Kansas in 2012, when the average state university tuition and fees per full-time student reached $8,055, topping per-student state general fund spending of $7,430. Ten years ago, tuition and fees were $6,188 compared to state general fund spending of $9,455 per student.
Regents chairman Shane Bangerter touched on the shift before the vote.
“It’s just an unfortunate circumstance that we’re in — that students across the state and across the nation are asked to pay a bigger percentage, it seems like every year,” he said. “Certainly I think everyone on this board would like to see that trend reversed.”