OPINION: Tuition increases continue to negatively effect students

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Another Kansas legislative session has come and passed, and to nobody’s surprise, another round of education budget cuts passed. Budget cuts equal tuition increases, which have occurred at Kansas State University—and every other university in the state—every year for at least the past decade.

I have been at Kansas State University now for six years. It took me five years to complete my undergraduate double majors and double minors. I have also completed my first year of graduate school and have one year left. In the seven total years I will have spent at K-State by the time I graduate, tuition will have increased [IL1] 33.8 percent.

After the numbers are added up, I am appalled the state, the Kansas Board of Regents and the Kansas legislature allows this to continue to happen. These governing bodies must look at tuition increases and say, “Oh, it’s just 2.9 percent for this year,” or, “Well, what’s another 5 percent increase?” without actually acknowledging how much of this burden falls on the students of colleges and universities in Kansas.

Being born and raised in Minnesota, I did not know what it was like to live in a world where education was not valued. Sure, budget cuts to education happen everywhere. That is a given since our society has systematically shown it does not care about education. But I did not comprehend how deep the systematic and institutional devaluation of education could go until I moved to and lived in Kansas.

Currently featured on K-State’s home page is the disclaimer that K-State is ranked the “No. 1 college value in Kansas.” OK? So, K-State is bragging about being the best of the worst? Cool for you, friend. But this accolade is based on the 2017 article “Best Value Colleges” per state from Smart Asset, which purports itself as a website that provides accessible information about complex financial questions. What gives this source any level of credibility? Or is K-State really that desperate to claim itself as a strong land-grant university that it is willing to literally scrape the bottom of any barrel to hang on to praise from anywhere to support itself as a good institution to attend? Who knows, because I sure do not.

If there is one thing K-State does well, it is public relations. It releases a press release any time there is anything remotely positive to say about itself, and this ranking from Smart Asset is no different. Pat Bosco, vice president for student life and dean of students, is quoted in a June 23 press release stating that attending K-State is one of the best returns on investment. But at what cost to students?

According to the Office of Student Financial Assistance’s website, it awards “more than $230 million is scholarships, federal, state, university and private aid each year.” That is great, but how much of that is student loans compared to scholarships, university or private aid each year? I ask because one of the leading sources of fundraising for the university is the Kansas State University Foundation, which has a goal to raise $1.4 billion by 2020. There is a discrepancy in how much money is coming into the university and how much money is actually being given to students.

There are probably bureaucratic processes I do not understand as some lowly student in the grand totem pole that is the inner workings of a university. And sure, I acknowledge that not all money given to a university goes directly back to students through aid and scholarships. But I find it frustrating that as tuition continues to increase, it is unknown what kind help has been given to students who most need it.

As a student who has received multiple types of aid from K-State, I am still sitting in debt from student loans due to the continued increase in tuition. In what ways have scholarships been adjusted for inflation and/or the continued increase of the cost of living in Manhattan? Time and time again, I hear from students who have “full ride” scholarships who cannot afford to live in this town or take all of the courses they need without additional aid because the university did not consider or has not considered that as it becomes more expensive to live in this town or the cost of attending the university increases, then the amount of the “full ride” scholarship must also proportionally increase. If scholarships are not adjusted accordingly, the brunt of education continues to fall back on students who need the most help.

The scholarship opportunities offered at K-State also are only available to the elites who might not even need assistance to get through college. What about average students who have to work two to three jobs averaging 40 to 80 hours a week in order to afford to live in Manhattan and attend K-State, whose grades consequently suffer because they have to allocate their time in other ways in order to simply survive? Are there the same opportunities for them—those students who are not 4.0 GPA students and are not related to alumni from Johnson County? Realistically, there are not. For those average students, their only option is student loans.

So, how can K-State claim it is one of “the best returns in investments” when they are forcing students further and further into debt because they do not provide as many opportunities for the average students compared to the 4.0 students? This university hides behind the guise of “everything is fine, and we are helping our students.” But once the surface is barely scratched, one can see how little this university is actually helping its students and how badly the public relations campaign is actually working.

Jakki Forester is a graduate student in communication studies. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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