State universities won't hike tuition for Kansas undergrads

June 19, 2019 - 7:12 pm

State universities will not increase tuition this fall for undergraduate students from Kansas, but the board overseeing higher education boosted rates for other students Wednesday.

Kansas Board of Regents members said they focused on helping undergraduate students from inside the state first as they pushed the universities to keep tuition from rising, believing that would be state lawmakers' top priority. But some Kansas graduate students will still pay more in the fall, along with graduates and undergraduates from outside the state.

The board's decisions came after the Republican-controlled Legislature increased state funding for the universities' operations by $38 million, or nearly 6.5%, for the 2019-20 school year. Some lawmakers who backed the extra spending said they expected no tuition increases, and Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly even suggested tuition could drop for some students.

Board members and university officials said that even with big increase in funding, the universities are still struggling to keep up with rising costs and maintain their programs. State funding is still below what it was for the 2008-09 school year.

"The pain is going to be on all sides here," said board member Allen Schmidt, a former state senator from Hays.

Wichita State University, Fort Hays State and the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, will have no tuition increases in the fall. Graduate students from Kansas also will see no tuition increases at the University of Kansas, and its satellite campus in Overland Park will even cut tuition for Kansas undergraduates by 2.6%.

When the universities submitted tuition proposals to the board in May, four proposed increases for Kansas undergraduates, with Kansas State University proposing a 3.1% hike. The regents expressed strong misgivings. They revised their proposals, though Kansas State still sought a 1.5% increase for Kansas undergraduates.

Board member Bill Feuerborn, a former Kansas House member from Garnett, said for Kansas undergraduates, "It has to be at zero."

However, out-of-state undergraduate students will see tuition rise by as much as 2.5% at the University of Kansas and 1.5% at Kansas State University. Both also are increasing tuition for out-of-state graduate students, and all graduate students at Emporia State University and Pittsburg State will see increases as well.

The universities said that even with the extra state funding, they will struggle to provide pay raises for employees, keep up with maintenance, finance student-sought services and pay for initiatives designed to increase their enrollments.

"It was very poor timing in when the regents decided to kind of make this appeasement to the Legislature," said Jansen Penny, the student body president at Kansas State University.

In a summary of the universities' May tuition proposals, the regents' staff acknowledged that this year's boost in state funding was "a remarkable increase in state investment." But the state's spending for the 2019-20 school year, at $626 million, is still more than $31 million, or 4.8%, below its peak during the 2008-09 school year.

Still, Republican legislators who helped draft the state budget this year were upset that universities sought tuition increases, and Kelly said during an Associated Press interview last week that she was "disappointed."

"I thought that, particularly when the Legislature added more funding, not only would they try to use management tools to hold tuition flat, but they'd recognize the spirit of what the Legislature did," she said.

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