Engineering fee proposal a response to state law

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Two separate demands of Kansas politics are the reason for a $30 per-credit-hour fee increase proposal for the College of Engineering. This is according to Darren Dawson, professor and dean of the college, who spoke at the Tuition and Fees Strategies Committee meeting Tuesday.

The college’s fee proposal was originally $15 per credit hour for next school year, which would be used by the college to meet the requirements of the Kansas University Engineering Initiative Act.

But with President Kirk Schulz’s 2 percent budget callback on Feb. 19 and Gov. Sam Brownback’s 3 percent cut to higher education funding announced March 1, the college proposed an additional $15 fee on top of the $15 fee increase for next year to keep the plan on track.

The original engineering fee proposal was for year two of a five-year plan, where the per-credit-hour fee is increased by $15 per year. A $75 per-credit-hour fee for engineering courses would be the end goal of the five-year plan, which would be in addition to a $20 equipment fee.

If the fee proposals are not approved, the college’s accreditation may suffer, Gary Clark, professor and associate dean of the college, said.

He said the accreditors said they had concerns with the college when they visited in 1999, 2005 and 2011.

“We had to do some scrambling after that last visit in 2011 to get that weakness resolved,” Clark said. “But I guarantee you when (the accreditors) come back next year, if we’re out of balance again, it’s going to be bad news.”

The five-year fee plan was the college’s response to the University Engineering Initiative Act, a 2012 Kansas law intended to increase undergraduate engineering degrees in the state.

As part of the law, the state will fund $105 million over 10 years to K-State, the University of Kansas and Wichita State University, the three state universities that provide undergraduate engineering degrees.

Student-teacher ratios and accreditation

According to the fee proposal document, each set of $15 per credit hour raises $750,000. The intended fee of $75 per credit hour would generate $3.75 million per year.

Of that, $750,000 would be spent on 10 instructors, teaching assistants or associate professors at an average salary of $75,000. An additional $2.75 million would cover 25 tenure-track faculty at an average salary of $110,000. The remaining $250,000 would be used for “targeted enhancements for existing faculty for retention purposes,” according to the fee proposal.

In his presentation to the committee, Dawson said K-State’s goal with the law was to grow undergraduate enrollment in the college from 2,900 to 3,800. As of fall 2015, Dawson said there were 3,666 students.

While enrollment at K-State as a whole has decreased by 608 students since fall 2014, Dawson said the college’s enrollment was up 156 students.

To meet the demands of the additional enrollment, 35 new faculty are required. According to the fee proposal document, seven new faculty will be added every year. The first seven will begin teaching this fall.

Nine of the 35 will be funded through tuition increases by the university while the other 26 will be funded by the college’s fees.

The original $15 per-credit-hour fee increase plan would cover the 26 faculty. The additional $15 per credit hour in the proposal for next school year would cover the budget cuts, which Dawson said was necessary to continue to meet the requirements of the University Engineering Initiative Act.

The budget cuts would be difficult to absorb, Dawson said, because 94 percent of the college’s budget go toward faculty and staff, leaving little room to make cuts.

The accreditation problem is that there are not enough faculty for the number of students, Dawson and Clark said.

“Students are having to be charted into large lecture halls to teach junior-level classes in mechanical engineering,” Dawson said. “In mechanical engineering, we can’t get all the students into the labs. In computer science … they were teaching those classes with 35 students. Now there are like 60 students in a class like that. The system is starting to break.”

April Mason, committee member, provost and senior vice president, said the fee proposal is not to enhance the education, but to improve the base program.

“This is not the whipped cream and the cherry,” Mason said. “This is the ice cream. You’re hearing accreditation issues. You’re hearing class size. That’s not an enhancement, that’s the actual program.”

K-State vs. the competition

Dawson’s presentation included a listing of engineering degree costs at K-State, KU and all the peer institutions of the K-State 2025 plan. The peer institutions are all land-grant universities of similar size to K-State.

The average cost for an engineering degree at the peer institutions was $53,924. The current K-State cost is $44,467, while the current KU cost is $46,878. The projected fee and tuition increases over the next four years would make a K-State engineering degree cost $55,273.

“Our costs are not out of whack compared to other students in other states,” Dawson said.

Dawson said the comparisons to peer institutions is valuable because it compares the cost of in-state tuition at other similar, land-grant universities to the cost of in-state tuition at K-State. Comparisons with Big 12 schools would be skewed, Dawson said, because of private schools such as Texas Christian University and Baylor University.

Dawson said that according to the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings, both KU and K-State rank 70th for their undergraduate program’s, but K-State’s graduate program ranks 94th while KU’s ranks 90th.

“It’s important for us that we don’t let KU get out in a place where their reputation is substantially better than us according to the U.S. News and World Report because people do use that to make a decision,” Dawson said.

Because of the ranking, KU is advertising itself as the best engineering program in the state, Dawson said. KU is also adding 30 new engineering faculty as they comply with the state law, Dawson said.

“We believe the K-State alumni, faculty and staff, and students deserve the best engineering program in the state of Kansas, and bygone that’s what we’re going to do,” Dawson said.

Dawson said the job market for engineering majors is strong throughout the country and the return on investment is high, so the increased costs would be unlikely to deter students from enrolling in the engineering program.

Students on the committee asked if increasing need-based scholarships could help offset some of the additional costs to students.

Clark said there is a $400,000 fund for first generation student scholarships, but it is difficult for the college to increase financial aid for students. Currently, the $36 million endowment generates about $1.6 million per year, but the scholarship bill is over $2 million, Clark said.

Part of this is because more than half of Putnam Scholarship students are engineering students, Clark said. Financial aid commitments for engineering Putnam scholars is about $1.43 million.

“We’ve had tremendous success in attracting great students in the College of Engineering,” Pat Bosco, committee member and dean of student life, said.

Clark said it is a good problem to have, but there is not enough scholarship money to cover the commitments.

Students divided on fee proposal

Students and faculty have both been engaged by the college for feedback on the fee proposal.

Dawson said over the course of several meetings, which had an average attendance of 75-150 students, students were informed about the fee proposal.

Jordan DeLoach, committee member, SGA senator and senior in computer science, said he attended the meetings and asked students to email him with their comments, but he didn’t receive any.

“The fact that I saw no one taking initiative to say ,’Hey, I don’t agree with this,’ I found to be telling,” DeLoach said.

Jack Ayres, SGA senator and senior in chemical engineering, attended the meeting and said he doesn’t think “positive” and “negative” apply to students’ opinions on the fee proposal.

“Nobody is positive toward increased fees,” Ayres said. “Nobody is excited about paying more fees, but I do think there is a pretty unanimous voice that was positive that the plan was necessary … It’s a very unfortunate reality.”

Several members of the committee said they were concerned about the additional fee increase to cover the budget cuts. The opposition included discussions that no other colleges are using this method to cover the cost of the cuts.

“I do see the need for new faculty, so I would probably support the $15,” Emily Beneda, committee member and senior in food science and industry, said. “But I understand everyone is facing this 3-5 percent budget cut but no other college said that they’re going to use this fee to backfill for that, but I also understand that if there is no other source of revenue, it’s really hard.”

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Jason Tidd
Jason Tidd graduated from Kansas State University's Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication in May 2017. He was the spring 2017 editor-in-chief, fall 2016 news editor and spring 2016 assistant news editor. While at K-State, Jason played baritone in the Pride of Wildcat Land marching band.