The Kansas Board of Regents agreed Wednesday to impose a one-year tuition freeze for undergraduate, resident students at all six state universities in hopes of strengthening political support for a proposed $50 million higher education budget increase in the 2020 legislative session.
Members of the board rejected a proposal from Kansas State University that would have raised in-state undergraduate tuition on the Manhattan campus by 1.5 percent in the upcoming academic year. Kansas State officials responded to pressure from the Board of Regents, Gov. Laura Kelly and lawmakers by slashing an initial plan to boost tuition by 3.1 percent.
The University of Kansas and Wichita State University answered bipartisan interest in holding the line on tuition by abandoning pleas for 1 percent tuition hikes for Kansas undergraduates, while Emporia State University withdrew a 2.5 percent proposal for those students.
Pittsburg State University and Fort Hays State University voluntarily requested no change in tuition for resident undergraduates in the 2019-2020 school year.
"One of the things I want to make sure we do is to understand how difficult that was — that decision — and highlight many of the things that will not happen because of coming in with a flat tuition," said Dennis Mullin, chairman of the Board of Regents. "The world out there needs to understand these do not come without punishment and pain."
Loss of projected tuition revenue would diminish cash available for fixed costs that rise every year, employee raises, mental health programs, student recruitment, need-based aid, graduate student support and dozens of other areas.
"It's not going to be simple coming off a $20 million budget cut last year," said KU Chancellor Douglas Girod.
He said tuition at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., wouldn't rise next school year.
Part of the political calculus for university officials and the Board of Regents was passage of a bill during the 2019 legislative session that appropriated $33 million in new state aid to higher education. The Board of Regents indicated it would like to follow that by convincing legislators to approve a $50 million increase in state aid to public higher education.
Mullin said the 2020 Legislature ought to understand that underfunding the Board of Regents' request would trigger a tuition hike.
"If they give us only $25 million, they have to recognize immediately that we're going to increase tuition costs along with that. If we're lucky enough to give us $50 million, then I would hope we wouldn't have to increase tuition," the chairman said.
In May, the Democratic governor recommended universities step forward with either flat or reduced tuition in recognition students absorbed substantial tuition hikes in the past decade. Tuition rates surged more than 50 percent at five of the six state universities during that period. The governor said the state was "pricing kids and families out of our higher education system."
The Board of Regents voted 8-1 against granting K-State a tuition increase for in-state undergraduate students. The board voted down a proposal to hold resident graduate tuition rates flat for one year.
"There will not be an increase in Kansas students going to our Kansas universities for undergraduate studies. We think that is very important," said Bill Feuerborn, a member of the Board of Regents.
The Board of Regents agreed to allow nonresident undergraduate tuition to increase 1.5 percent at K-State and 2.5 percent at KU. None of the four other universities requested an increase for their nonresident undergraduates.
However, Kansas resident students in graduate school face tuition adjustments of 2.5 percent at Emporia State, 1.8 percent at Pittsburg State and 1.5 percent at KU. For out-of-state graduate students, here are the rate hikes: KU and Emporia State, 2.5 percent; Pitt State, 1.8 percent; and K-State, 1.5 percent.
Board of Regents member Mark Hutton, who would have preferred no tuition increase for resident undergraduate and graduate students, said the board should dive into an examination of university student fees, which he considered a backdoor version of tuition. He said legislators were concerned about the rising number and cost of student fees.