Another round of tuition increases, budget cuts for fall semester

Photo credit: Alex Brase

The Kansas Board of Regents approved K-State’s request to increase tuition rates by 2.9 percent at a meeting on June 15.

Tuition for the fall 2017 semester will increase by $130.67 for resident undergraduates enrolled for 15 credit hours, and $140.21 for full-time resident graduate students. Tuition for the fall 2017 semester for out-of-state students will equate to an additional $316.51 for undergraduates and $346.74 for graduate students enrolled in a full credit load.

The tuition increase does not apply to students in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Universities across the state of Kansas are also facing proposed full-time tuition increases. The University of Kansas is expecting a 2.5 percent tuition increase, the University of Kansas Medical School is expecting a 5 percent increase, Wichita State is expecting a 2.5 percent increase, Emporia State is expecting a 2.7 percent increase, Pittsburg State University is expecting a 2.8 percent increase and Fort Hays State University is expecting a 2.9 percent increase.

The revenue raised from the increase will finance the rising cost of utilities, professional awards, unfunded state benefit mandates, faculty promotions and targeted salary enhancements.

Deficits in tuition revenue from last year and operation expenses not completely paid for by the tuition hike will be offset with about $8 million in budget cuts.

State funding for education has decreased over the past decade. This year, Kansas grappled with a nearly $900 million budget shortfall predicted for the next two years, leading into the second-longest legislative session in the state’s history.

The university raises approximately “$1.8 million for about every 1 percent that we would raise base tuition rate,” Ethan Erickson, assistant vice president for budget and planning, said at the Tuition and Fees Strategies Committee meeting on Nov. 8, 2016.

Each percentage of state funding for higher education that is cut equates to about $1.4 million.

“So almost one-for-one there, really,” Erickson said.

The Kansas legislature partially restored last year’s 5.1 percent cut to K-State’s state funding, adding 1.1 percent more funding for fiscal year 2018. The most recent adjustment to state funding is one of just a few lulls in a string of regular budget cuts for the university; adjusted for inflation, K-State currently receives less state funding than at any time during the financial recession in the late 2000s.

Records show state funding has fallen an average of 3.48 percent per year since 2007, while tuition revenue for the Manhattan and Polytechnic campuses has increased an average of 4.97 percent per year.

State funding to and tuition revenue for K-State has steadily decreased over the last ten fiscal years.
Photo credit: Alex Brase

“All I can say is we’re doing the best possible job we can in an environment where consumers are students and families [who] would like to know how much it is going to cost to go to K-State next fall,” Pat Bosco, vice president of student life and dean of students, said.

Tuition rates and required fees at K-State’s Manhattan campus have steadily increased every year since at least 1989, mostly due to the ever-increasing cost of operating a multi-campus university.

Enrollment has also fallen short of projections in recent years.

“We’re just going to do the best we can with the hand we’re dealt,” Cindy Bontrager, vice president for administration and finance, said. “We’re going to continue to offer the best education, the best experience we can, but [declining state funding] just erodes services.”

The Board of Regents usually debates tuition proposals in May, when the state budget normally is finalized and public universities are able to adjust tuition rates in relation to the allocated state funding. The Kansas legislature, which did not pass an appropriation bill for fiscal year 2018 until June 10, pushed the final approval of tuition increases to the June meeting.

Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, said he is hopeful the actions the Kansas Legislature took in the past couple of months, such as repealing most of Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts, will provide more financial stability over the next couple of years.

“I want to see the legislature pick up a slightly higher percent of the university’s budget so the university can hold tuition down or at least put more resources into scholarships so students can afford to go [to K-State],” Hawk said.

Anticipating fewer returning students in the fall, Bontrager said the university will likely need to make more “adjustments” later on.

Inflation-adjusted utility costs increased 32.5 percent from $14.4 million in fiscal year 2006 to $20 million in fiscal year 2016, a rate of increase faster than any other major budget category aside from scholarships, Erickson said. Higher rates from Westar Energy and more buildings on campus have helped drive this rise.

“We are seeing more efficiencies in our systems and putting in that new chill plant,” Bontrager said. “We’re actually seeing some better savings than we anticipated.”

K-State’s general use funds, which come from state funding, tuition revenue and the veterinary hospital, are used to help fund the Manhattan campus, Veterinary Medical Center and research and extension. Large portions of the university’s funds are also directed to salaries, benefits, utilities and research.

In fiscal year 2006, state funding, when adjusted for inflation, filled 60 percent of the university’s general use budget, Erickson said. In fiscal year 2016, state funding dropped to about 40 percent of the general use budget, a trend closely reflected by the rising levels of tuition increases and enrollment growth in the same ten-year span.

K-State President Richard Myers has instructed an efficiencies committee to develop short-term recommendations for consolidating administrative systems and processes.

“We should certainly never undervalue the commitment that these administrators and faculty make to touch the lives, to change the lives, and, in some cases, save the lives of students,” Ray Frederick, chair of the Kansas Postsecondary Technical Education Authority, said on June 15.

Administrative areas, including the offices of the president, provost and senior vice president, vice president for administration and finance, communications and marketing, research and human capital services may potentially pilot the setup.

“K-State has such a can-do attitude,” Bosco said. “We are very committed to keeping the K-State culture special, but also understanding that we are pricing ourselves out of the bread and butter market of university family. I lose sleep over the rising cost of attendance here, and I’m not alone.”

Contributing writer for the Collegian. I’m a senior studying journalism and mass communications and working on minors in political science and music. I also manage digital operations as a communications fellow with the Kansas Democratic Party; I do not report on or write about anything political unless it shows up in the opinion section.