Although multiple cost increases were approved at the Nov. 15 Board of Regents meeting, board members voted unanimously in line with President Michael Benson’s wishes to freeze tuition increases for the 2018-2019 year.
“This is a gamble, but it’s a gamble we’re willing to take,” Benson said at the meeting. “And it’s a strategy that I think, as [Regent Chair] Mr. Turner said, others are going to emulate”
The decision to freeze tuition disrupts the trend of three to five percent increases in EKU tuition over the past three years. In a Nov. 8 email proposing the freeze, Benson acknowledged the increases as “not sustainable.”
“Located within EKU’s primary service region are some of the most economically disadvantaged counties in the United States,” Benson said in the email. “Nearly 90 percent of our students are Kentuckians, and half are first-generation, low-income or both. Additionally, 76 percent of our graduates go on to work in the Commonwealth within one year, and many fill positions critical to our quality of life. Any decrease in enrollment and graduation rates would rob some of our most vulnerable communities of new police officers, emergency medical technicians, nurses, social workers, teachers and more.”
This fall, EKU has seen a decline of 321 students in total enrollment. The dip in enrollment has resulted in a subsequent loss of approximately $2 million for the university, said Barry Poynter, Vice President for finance and administration.
To prevent further decline, a zero percent increase in tuition could serve as a useful “recruitment tool”, said SGA president Laura Jackson.
EKU is hardly the first public university to freeze tuition for its students. According to CollegeXpress, multiple universities in Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Illinois Arizona, California, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington have chosen to halt tuition increases.
In many of these states, tuition freezes are accommodated by an increase in state funds. In Nebraska, for example, state officials and state college leaders reached a “compact” deal that froze tuition increases from 2013 to 2015 on the condition that state funding for Nebraska universities would increase by 9 percent. In July, the University of Wisconsin chose to freeze undergraduate tuition for a fifth straight year in exchange for a $37.8 million (3.7 percent) increase in state funding, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Kentucky schools, meanwhile, continue to suffer from a decrease in state funding. A study performed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that per-student funding for public Kentucky universities has decreased by 26.4 percent (or $2,832 per student) since 2008, placing it among the top ten states in terms of budget reductions after the Great Recession.
Kentucky is also only one of 13 states that’s continued to cut funding for higher education between 2016 and 2017, with the most recent cuts at 4.5 percent. While Benson said that no additional fees will be added by the university, students around Kentucky could be looking at another fee come 2018.
“There’s talk of a statewide capital asset preservation fee that would be a per-credit hour, per-student fee,” Benson said. “…not just endemic solely to our campus, but it would be for every student in the commonwealth of Kentucky.”
The benefit of this fee, Benson said, is that if passed, the state would match campuses dollar-for-dollar for what they earned through the fee. If EKU were to raise $30 million next year through the fee, for example, added funds from the state legislature would result in $60 million raised.
Benson said the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) may address the fee at their December meeting, but most likely after January 1. The bond necessary to enact the fee would total $600 million.
One finding that CollegeXpress made was that once universities abandoned such freezes, tuition rates often returned much higher than they previously were. If EKU were to only resume the trend of a nearly five percent average increase over the past three years, students would be paying at least $4,700 a semester for tuition and fees.
“It’s kind of an incontrovertible fact; you have to make up for it in other areas,” Benson said. “In figuring out kind of the calculus of where we’re going to set our tuition when we move forward, you have to take into consideration several different factors.”
These factors, Benson said, were student demographics, tuition set by competing state universities, state support, and the impending issue over pensions that threaten to drain resources from higher education.
EKU students will at least know what they’ll spend in housing and meal plans. The approved meal plan and housing rates for 2018-2019 guarantee hikes of 3.5 percent and three percent, respectfully – part of what Benson referred to as “fixed and unavoidable costs”.
Students planning to live in basic residence halls like Palmer, Keene, Burnam, or Sullivan next year can expect to pay $2,458.61 a semester in 2018-2019, a roughly $72 increase from current rates. Students with the 5 Day All Access plan will pay $63 more for the plan in 2018 than they did this year, at $1,864 a semester.
Aaron Rice, a sophomore communications disorder major from London, said he wasn’t bothered by the thought of additional increases.
“The way I see it, it was already not too expensive,” Rice said. “Compared to other places, housing and dining wasn’t that pricey, so as long as it doesn’t keep going, where it’s at isn’t awful.”