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Some Regents Worried About The Future Of Kansas Higher Education

Kansas Board of Regents

The Kansas Board of Regents met Wednesday afternoon to approve tuition increases for the next school year. The board thought it was going to do that last month, but during the meeting Gov. Sam Brownback announced he was cutting an additional $30 million out of higher education.

So, at their last regular meeting until September, the Regents found themselves having to approve even higher tuition hikes.

They did, but it turned into a session where some Regents worried about the health of Kansas higher education, some worried about pricing out low-income students and the university presidents fretted about tax revenue.

In the end, nobody was happy.

“I think they came back with a very conservative increase in tuition," says Regent Bill Feuerborn from Garnett. "I hate it that we have to raise tuition at all. If the state dollars are not there, they have to come from somewhere."

The board hasn't sat silently while higher education has been cut to help balance the ailing Kansas budget —they've talked about how the Regent universities drive economic growth. But they took a different tactic Wednesday: how the cost has shifted from the state to the student. 

“We’ve crossed the border now where more of the burden is on the student than on the state. And that just seems to be a trend that’s not reversing," says Regent Chairman Shane Bangerter from Dodge City.

Across the six universities on average students now pay for 56 percent of their education and the state 44 percent. Bangerter says when he was an undergraduate the state paid 80 percent.

All of the presidents also made the point that costs continue to rise. Utilities cost more, health care is more expensive, as is the cost of technology. Universities have had to add positions; Pittsburgh State says it hired a part-time sexual assault investigator.

And it's been years since most employees got a raise. “You can imagine the morale if you’re not getting a raise for seven or eight years. And at the same time, all of your expenses are going up," says Bangerter.

But Regent Ann Murguia from Kansas City says she wanted to hear less about pay raises and recruiting faculty and more about how students are going to afford college. "I just didn’t hear a lot of concern from anyone about what this will do for accessibility for some of the poorest people in Kansas.”

Here are the tuition increases approved by the Board of Regents:

  • University of Kansas               5 percent
  • Kansas State University         5.8 percent
  • Wichita State University        5 percent
  • Emporia State University      4.9 percent
  • Pittsburg State University     5.5 percent
  • Fort Hays State University    6 percent

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR. He's also co-host of KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @samzeff.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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