Guest editorial: A threat to K-State’s shared-governance model

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On Tuesday, April 11, the student-led Tuition and Fees Strategies Committee voted to unanimously deny the College of Engineering an increase in its surcharge amount that would move its per credit hour fee to $110-122. The College of Engineering currently has the university’s highest cumulative per credit hour fee at $84. The current increase was aimed to hire 5 additional faculty members for the next year and backfill any potential higher education budget cuts from the state.

Subsequently, the College of Engineering dean, Darren Dawson, sent an email to faculty in the college. In the email, he encouraged his faculty to express a desire for university administration to ignore the voice of the student committee and to recommend the sizable fee increase, an increase that the faculty would never have to pay.

The Tuition and Fees Strategy Committee is entrusted with the responsibility of recommending a per-credit hour tuition for the university and fee rates for the colleges. Typically, the recommendation from the committee is then presented by the university without alteration for review by the Kansas Board of Regents. This shared-governance model and trust between university administration and students is a system with few peers among high education institutions.

TFSC is comprised of voting members from all colleges at K-State. I was lucky enough to serve on this committee last year. Although an individual college might have an advisory board recommend a credit hour fee increase, it is up to TFSC to consider the proposal from a more unbiased perspective and to contemplate the potential impact the cost would have on students who come from various backgrounds. The committee weighs the potential benefits of a fee against the financial impact on students and the accessibility of higher education.

For the past two years, K-State has experienced approximately a 4 percent drop in enrollment. This drop is in part due to students choosing to pursue education at community colleges and technical schools, and is also due to students choosing not to re-enroll at K-State. Although a few students do not see the value in continuing their higher education, from my conversations with some administrators, one of the main reasons students do not return to K-State is due to the high cost of attendance, even after a financial aid package (scholarships and loans) is provided.

The rising cost of the education at K-State disproportionately affects students from minority communities and students whose families do not have enough economic resources to support what the student owes — the difference in between the total cost of attendance at the university and the student’s financial aid package.

As fees have continued to increase, the committee has placed a greater emphasis on what colleges are doing to provide needs-based assistance to help students stay at K-State who are vulnerable to leaving the university due to fee increases. With no university-wide Needs Based Scholarship program, many times the only help for students attempting to remain at K-State are the Student Opportunity Awards, supported by K-State Proud.

The committee took this into account when making their decision to deny the large credit hour fee increase with a unanimous vote, including the student representative from the College of Engineering. In addition, this decision was supported by a unanimous vote from Student Senate, recommending to university administration that the decision from TFSC be respected and that the shared-governance model be upheld — a resolution supported by all the College of Engineering senators in attendance.

I attended the College of Engineering’s open forum on Monday where Dean Dawson pointed out that the university has not increased its allocation to the College of Engineering even though it is one of the few colleges to maintain its size or grow in the last couple of years. This is a issue that has been brewing for a while, and an discussion that President Myers and university administration should have sooner rather than later.

Although the dean has a strong point with this argument and his criticism, it is the opinion of this student that the shared-governance model should be respected and that the college’s hiring plan be put on hold for a year. During the intervening year, President Myers will have enough time to propose a different model for the allocation of the general use budget for tuition dollars at K-State that better reflects current needs.

A potential increase in the college’s already high surcharge fee should wait until the President has time to consider a different general use budget allocation or until a university-wide Needs Based Scholarship program is in place to help students continue their education at K-State.

Stephen Kucera is a senior in accounting and music performance. He served on last year’s Tuition and Fees Strategies Committee and four terms as a student senator in the Student Governing Association.

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