Costs for higher education may be on the rise, but a proposed Kentucky Senate bill to freeze tuition is not the answer, voiced Eastern’s Student Government Association (SGA) after voting in mid-February to oppose the bill.
EKU’s SGA is teamed up with eight other state institutions and EKU administrators to combat rising tuition costs and speak out against state legislation that could have a negative impact on both students and the university.
“A bill like this would cripple regional colleges,” said EKU SGA President Katie Scott. “Senate Bill 75 only treats a symptom but doesn’t address the real problem—state budget cuts to higher education.”
She said the rising cost of tuition is a concern, but a tuition freeze would only make the problem worse and doesn’t address the money lost due to state budget cuts. With the current 9 percent budget cut proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin, and with a 4.9 percent cut to the current budget, a tuition freeze could force the university to cut necessary programs, faculty or staff, Scott said.
“The SGA decided to oppose the bill because the more research we did the more we realized that it was not the best for students in general,” Scott said.
Senate Bill 75 was aiming to freeze tuition and residential fees for the next four years until Kentucky lawmakers could thoroughly evaluate the current cost of tuition and seek ways to ensure that it continues to be affordable for Kentuckians. The bill was geared to spark conversation amongst law makers about the rising cost of tuition in Kentucky, said bill sponsor Kentucky Sen. Dan Seum (R), who represents Bullitt County and part of Jefferson County.
State university tuition costs have been rising rapidly since 2008 due to a steady decline in state funding, which once kept tuition cost down. The funds allocated to state universities have dropped by $165 million since 2008, but is disproportional to the combined $582 million in revenue gained from tuition increases, Suem said.
Several state colleges are creating a debt crisis for new students, with elevated tuition costs and an “arms race” between Kentucky universities to compete for new students, Seum said.
EKU spokesman David McFaddin said although there is quite a bit of construction on campus, administrators have been seeking alternative ways to pay for many of the capital projects, such as private-public partnerships and donors.
Improvements on campus are a must, McFaddin said. The majority of buildings on campus were built in the 1960s and New Hall is the first dorm built in more than 50 years.
McFaddin said proposed legislation generalizes state colleges when each university’s budget and needs differ. He said tuition costs increases have not made up for the money lost in state budget cuts.
EKU student Caitlin Brock, 20, the EKU College Republican chair and vice president of the Conservative Coalition, said she is in support of the bill because it opens up a dialogue about the rising cost of tuition and what impact it could have on the ability for many Kentucky students to pay for college.
Brock said she chose Eastern because it was an affordable option and understands EKU has different budgetary needs than other universities in the state. Yet, she said in-state tuition at many schools are starting to come close to the cost of private institution in Kentucky.
Scott said tuition dollars are not flat profit, they go to services that make the student experiences better on campus and work toward higher retention and graduation rates, and a better learning environment.
Scott said the Council on Post-Secondary Education (CPE) currently sets a tuition cap of eight percent to be split-up among two years. No university in Kentucky can raise tuition more than five percent in a year. She said SB 75 would take the power out of the hands of the CPE and gives no clear indication of what happens after the freeze is up in four years, which puts students at risk for a very high spike in tuition in 2020.
The CPE was one of many considerations discussed at the Tuesday, Feb. 9 meeting where SGA voted 21 – 1 to oppose Senate Bill 75. Scott said many senators spoke and that several people had conducted research which looked into the type of impact the bill could have on the university and presented their research before the vote. There were five undecideds and one abstention, because the individual was going to speak in Frankfort about the bill.
Scott spoke before the Appropriations and Budget Committee in Frankfort on Thursday, Feb. 19, defending EKU’s current budget and speaking out against state cuts.
Scott said she was relieved the committee decided to table the bill.
“It sounds like a good solution for the short term but in the long term there are too many unpredictable variables,” Scott said.
The SGA has also jump-started a grassroots-movement among the student body at Eastern, encouraging students to contact their local senators and speak-out about the budget cuts.
“For every call your senator gets it produces a green-slip,” Scott said. “It only takes three or four green slips to catch your legislator’s attention.”