Administrators address tuition freeze, tuition increases in open forum

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At Friday afternoon’s open forum in the Alumni Center with Provost April Mason and President Kirk Schulz, the administrators addressed issues of funding, transparency and other questions by audience members.

Last week, a small group of state lawmakers from the House and Senate reportedly proposed a two-year tuition freeze in exchange for avoiding cuts to higher education. Schulz said he did not support the proposal and the university was not a part of the discussion.

“If there is a tuition freeze, what that means for the next two years is we have no new income of any kind coming into the campus,” Schulz said. “There won’t be a lot of hiring, there won’t be a lot of building, there won’t be a lot of raises. That’s a disaster for Kansas State.”

According to Schulz, last year’s tuition increase brought in about $11 million in additional funding. He said the tuition freeze would cost the university $20-$25 million over two years.

“This came out of nowhere,” Schulz said. “They (lawmakers) had not even talked about it as a proposal … and then it was in the newspaper as an agreement. We did not agree to it. We found out about it about the same time you all did. It would be the largest cut we have taken since the recession.”

Mason said the budget advisory committee is building the budget for next year on the assumption of a 5 percent increase in tuition.

“Working with the tuition and fees strategy committee … the students are deliberating and thinking about, ‘Could we even go a little bit further to help the university?'” Mason said. “Taking out any increase whatsoever … increases the deficit in our current budget.”

Schulz said he was concerned about legislators moving around internal university funds.

“In this particular legislative cycle, we have seen the legislature reach into the Regents system and manipulate the proposal, for example, to move money internally within a university,” Schulz said. “What’s to stop, in some number of years, somebody deciding, ‘Well, gee, you know, we don’t need this department at K-State or anywhere else. We’re going to take the funding from that and dictate that they move it somewhere else.’ That’s just a bad idea in many, many regards.”

Schulz said he did not want legislators to intercede with tuition rates, since the law allows the Kansas Board of Regents to set them.

“Tuition is legislatively set by the Kansas Board of Regents, so we spend most of the year working with, and talking about and building a case for why these funds are important,” Schulz said. “So for somebody in a 24-hour period to just decide, ‘Hey, this is what we need to do.’ I’ve challenged, appropriately so, the regents that they’ve got to stand up and really draw a line in the sand here.”

Iowa lawmakers and university officials faced a similar situation, according to Schulz. He said they were able to find a compromise that was beneficial to that state’s budget and its universities.

“They (Iowa Board of Regents) got together with the legislature and said, ‘We’ll freeze our tuition and fees, but you’ve got to increase our base budget.'” Schulz said. “If that’s a goal, I’m all for it – but we’ve got to work on them on how we actually do that in a way that doesn’t crunch us.”

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