K-State students have received plenty of unwelcome news this summer. After the Kansas Senate approved the 2014 budget on June 2, cutting funding for higher education by a total of $44 million over two years, K-State submitted a plan to the Kansas Board of Regents to raise tuition by 7 percent. Meanwhile, federal student loan interest rates are scheduled to double next week if Congress does not take action.
Charlesia McKinney, senior in English, said that she would be personally affected by the tuition hike.
“As a student that is putting herself through college, I’m dependent on financial aid and working,” McKinney said. “It’s my last semester, but I’m really concerned for students who… are also in a situation like mine where they have to put themselves through school and will now have to face this increase for many more years.”
Last Wednesday, the Kansas Board of Regents approved K-State’s 7 percent increase in tuition, which applies to all students at the Manhattan campus. Resident undergraduate students at K-State-Manhattan who are taking 15 hours will see their tuition and fees increase by $269.40 per semester, while non-resident undergrads will pay $692.40 more, according to K-State’s KBOR proposal.
“I have to deal with it for a whole semester, but if I had to deal with it any longer than that, I’m not sure if I would be able to finish as easily,” said McKinney, who pays in-state tuition.
K-State officials said the cuts to state funding put the university in a difficult position.
“Would we prefer to keep tuition as low as we can? The answer is yes,” said Jeff Morris, vice president for communications and marketing. “It’s not like we want to do this.”
Raising tuition, Morris said, is not the only method of financial relief that the university is depending on.
“I think the reality is in an era of declining state support. We have to go for other sources of revenue,” he said. “We’ve ratcheted up our fundraising efforts, we’ve ratcheted up our research dollars, so all the other sources of revenue also will increase. We’re not just asking the students to do this; we’ve gone out and asked other people to invest in the university.”
Morris added that a $60,000 raise to President Kirk Schulz’s salary was recommended and approved by the KBOR without Schulz’s input, and it will be funded exclusively by private dollars.
In total, the tuition increase will generate $11.7 million for K-State, although the state cut the university’s share of the state general fund by $6.6 million. Those extra funds are necessary to pay not just for the state’s cuts, but also to compensate for other costs that increase yearly, and in fact, only $2.79 million will be used to offset the more than $6 million shortfall. The remainder will be covered by reallocations from the base budget at a later date, according to the KBOR proposal.
“Every year, we have some costs that continue to go up,” Morris said.
Those include utility costs, new faculty positions, funding for the KPERS retirement plan, and faculty promotions and awards, which the university is required to honor with an increase in pay grade.
“We want to work to maintain our best and brightest faculty, and we need to make sure that we compensate them fairly,” said Cindy BonTrager, interim vice president for administration and finance at K-State.
$11 million of the funds generated by the tuition increase will go toward K-State’s Manhattan campus, while the Salina campus will receive $336,000 and the College of Veterinary Medicine will receive $383,000. Of K-State-Manhattan’s share of the funds, about $4.7 million will go toward faculty and staff, and $1 million each will go to financial aid, utilities infrastructure and distance education enhancements. The remainder is allocated for KPERS, new student services and the state general fund shortfall.
In addition to the tuition hike, K-State is also increasing the fees paid by students taking classes in the College of Architecture from $19 to $35 per credit hour and implementing a new $8 per credit hour fee for classes in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“We’re just trying to maintain the quality of our institution in spite of the disinvestment of the state, and that’s a challenge, believe me,” BonTrager said.
Besides raising tuition and fees, K-State’s KBOR proposal also includes plans to cut university spending on K-State athletics altogether by 2014, a savings of $750,000.
Unfortunately, said Larry Moeder, director of financial assistance, director of admissions and vice president for student life, K-State cannot offer significantly greater assistance to cash-strapped students.
“There is a slight increase that will be happening in the area of scholarships and some need-based grant assistance for this next academic year,” Moeder said. “It’s probably not going to be at the level though to keep up with the increase in the tuition amount, and the increase in the — well, the possible increase in the student loan interest rates.”
Slightly more than 70 percent of K-State students currently receive financial aid, Moeder said. The prospects may be daunting for those students with federal loans. Interest rates for Stafford loans are set to double from 3.4 to 6.8 percent by July 1.
“Unfortunately, so much of the cost is now having to be covered by students and families through their own resources and through student loan programs,” Moeder said. “Students in the past who may not have had to borrow under student loans most likely will have to start looking at that as an option to help finance their education.”
Moeder said if the loan rates do change, students will be notified by the university, and he suggested PowerCat Financial Counseling could serve as a valuable — and free — resource to K-State students who need help managing their loans.
Manhattan area residents, students and teachers plan to protest the interest rate increase with a demonstration in Aggieville’s Triangle Park tomorrow at noon. For more information, call Bill Glover, president of K-State’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, at 785-770-9264.
Sydney Carlin, a Democrat, represents the 66th district — which contains Manhattan — in the Kansas House of Representatives. Carlin voted against the proposed 2014 budget and the state cuts to higher education both in committee and on the floor. She called the cuts “shortsighted.”
“The people that benefit from [higher education] could come right around and make Kansas better, strong and improve the economy,” Carlin said.
Instead, many Kansans are now looking to leave the state, partially due to political extremism, she said.
“I know we’re losing people because of our labor laws, our wages, union rules, attacks on teachers and education,” Carlin said. “People may go to school here and go get a job somewhere that they’re more valued.”
Carlin specifically criticized Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s policies, particularly his plan to continue cutting taxes in Kansas. Brownback, who announced on Friday that he will run for re-election in 2014, eventually intends to eliminate the state income tax altogether. Carlin said his re-election could spell trouble for Kansas.
“I think it means we’ll continue to experiment with government the way he wants it to be experimented with,” she said.
Brownback toured public universities throughout Kansas earlier this year, publicly appealing to the state legislature to avoid cutting education. Although Brownback said he strongly opposed any cuts, he signed the 2014 budget on June 15 without vetoing the 1.5 percent across-the-board cuts, although he did choose to veto multiple other line items, including a cut of $3 million to the Department of Corrections.
The only step Brownback could take now to reverse the budget cuts, Carlin said, would be to introduce the change to the legislature next year in early January. It is a move that could earn him some political support heading into an election year.
“He doesn’t have any friends in higher education right now, so it could happen,” Carlin said.
However, she is not optimistic.
“I expect there to be more cuts next year,” Carlin said.
Ultimately, the state’s cuts leave both students and university officials in a bind.
“Seeing those state reductions was pretty frustrating, you know, because we work very hard at the institution to provide a lot of good for the state of Kansas,” BonTrager said. “It feels like they’re not appreciating the economic development that our graduates bring to the state.”
BonTrager said Kansas students should not feel helpless, even as they are asked to bear an ever greater financial burden due to the actions of the state, with the prospect of even more costly federal assistance.
“There is something we all could do, and that’s to pay attention in the political arena and get out and vote and be more active in making sure they hear our voice,” BonTrager said.