The legislation that if passed would take $9.4 million from the University was shut down April 1. Instead, a conference committee of both House and Senate members has voted to freeze tuition rates at the six major Regents Universities, another tactic to possibly reduce funding to the universities.
Rep. Jerry Henry (D-Atchison) sits on the conference committee that discussed this changed legislation, and said the Senate rescinded their initial cuts due to criticisms. He said these changes are likely to pass into law when the legislature reconvenes in late-April.
“The Senate moved away from those cuts not just for KU,” he said. “They’re were getting quite a bit of fallback. So instead of cutting it at the State, we’re saying there’ll be a two year freeze in tuition. We have a couple senators who are going after the state universities, especially KU. They think KU is of the bigger pigs at the trough, kind of thing, so they want to move money around.”
Henry said the tuition freezes are considered flat funding, something that he said is difficult for universities to cope with, especially in a year where the Governor denied extra funds.
“You’ll see that’s hard on universities because they have all these new expenses that come in, and now they can’t go to tuition,” Henry said. “They’re raised the tuition in past years. In 2001, tuition was a little over $5 thousand and it’s jumped from $5 thousand to nearly roughly $11 thousand. They’re taking away their ability to get that additional money. KU is going to have a tough time keeping up with what they’ve been doing.”
Additionally, the Senate backed away from their initial plan to change the way grant money is allocated. Now, 40 percent of the grant money will go towards public universities, and 60 percent will go towards private universities.
“A comprehensive grant goes to the student, and the student carries it to whatever university they go to,” he said. “It’s looking like now they’re going to cap the public universities at 40 percent of the money and private at 60. KU I think will lose $300,000 to $400,000. A student might say ‘If I can get more going to a private one, I’ll just go there.’”
With the diversion of the grant money and the tuition freezes, Henry said he predicts the University could lose millions of dollars. One of the reasons he cites is the preference of many legislators to fund the private universities that graduate nearly 20 percent of Kansas students.
“They look at it as a better bang for our buck,” he said. “A lot of those kids that come from out-of-state to our private schools end up staying in our state being engineers or accountants. There’s a bit of an economic development phase to that.”
While Henry notes that private universities aren’t research based like the University of Kansas, he said they tend to graduate their students in four years, rather than the trend of five to six at public universities.
“Private schools are not research based and don’t have the bells and whistles of going to a public school, but they have a good case to say that a dollar spent there is a big benefit to Kansas,” Henry said.
Henry said since when freshmen enter the University of Kansas, their tuition is set at a fixed, four-year rate. With that, he said this will act as a six-year freeze in some cases for the University, resulting in even more tuition money lost and thus the University will have to find ways to recuperate.
“If your insurance or utilities go up or anything, they’ll have to take from operating expenses and letting go staff and start trimming back,” he said.
The staff the University may lose will not only affect the students, but will affect the global influence the University has, Henry said.
“In the end, I think a place like KU not only competes with places like K-state for in-state, but competes globally for high ranking students,” he said. “KU runs with the big dogs, and kids will come here for the teachers that are highly regarded nationwide. If we start losing them because we can’t pay them a fair wage, they’ll go somewhere else. I think our standing at KU will suffer if we don’t provide our state investment.”
— Edited by Miranda Davis