Regents members want legislators to consider state funding’s effect on tuition

Kansas Board of Regents members on Wednesday said legislators need to know that how much they fund schools — or don’t fund schools — affects how much students pay in tuition.

“Tuition ought to be part of this discussion,” said acting regents chair Ed McKechnie.

The board, which oversees higher education in Kansas, is preparing a proposed budget to be submitted to Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature.

On Thursday the board is expected to approve tuition increases for all six public universities, including Kansas University.

KU has proposed increasing tuition and required fees from $4,012 to $4,234, a $222 or 5.5 percent increase for an undergraduate taking 15 hours. The tuition for a non-Kansas resident would increase from $9,504 to $10,179, a $675 increase or 7.1 percent.

Graduate students would face a 5.5 percent increase for residents and 5.9 percent for nonresidents.

Tuition and fees under the KU Compact — first-time, degree-seeking freshman — would be fixed for four years and would increase from $4,366 to $4,611, or $245, a 5.6 percent increase. Nonresident students would see an increase from $10,769 to $11,304, or 5 percent.

The board has come under fire in recent years for approving tuition increases that exceed inflation, but regents have noted that the Legislature’s funding of higher education continues to decline.

McKechnie, a former legislator and member of the House Appropriations Committee, said when board members meet for a retreat in August they should discuss ways to approach legislators.

"Do we say to the Legislature that we really need this amount, and if you don’t fund this, tuition is going to be 'X'?," McKechnie said.

He said higher education officials also need to emphasize to legislators that there are system-wide costs that are beyond their control, such as health insurance and utilities.

Like much of state government, public higher education has sustained budget cuts over the past couple of years.

The budget just signed into law by Brownback allocates an estimated $744 million to higher education for the fiscal year that starts July 1. That compares with $753 million for the current fiscal year. During the two years prior to that, higher education was cut by $100 million.

Board members said they hope to get a proposed budget for the next fiscal year to Brownback by Sept. 15. Brownback will submit his budget recommendation to the Legislature in January when the 2012 session starts.

In recent years, the board has started budget discussions later in the year, but now officials said they wanted to begin earlier to get more input.

“Trying to move this up a little bit is helpful all the way around,” said Regents President and Chief Executive Officer Andy Tompkins.

By Scott Rothschild

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