Tuition going up, debt going up, it’s bringing us all down

“Pay no more, my lady” taken on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. Arden Barnes | Staff.

Bailey Vandiver

Clay Ramey grew up 76 miles from his dream college.

Throughout his entire life in Burlington, Ramey wanted to go to UK. He came from a family of Wildcats fans, including parents and a brother who attended the college.

But when he graduated high school, his next stop was not UK.

Instead, he enrolled at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, a decision that brought cheaper tuition, among other benefits.

He’s entering his fifth semester at BCTC, where he is studying chemical engineering.

For the most part, Ramey said, he’s been able to live as a UK student, though he feels he’s missed out on some student life experiences because he didn’t live on UK’s campus.

“It was my dream school,” he said of the university he has not yet attended.

Autumn Hamlin grew up 990 miles away from her dream college.

She grew up in Texas but had family ties to Kentucky— her grandparents, native Kentuckians, had passed down their love for the UK Wildcats.

As she approached graduation from her Houston high school and began her search for colleges, she knew she wanted to go out-of-state.

She visited, liked and enrolled at Louisiana State University.

Then she attended her aunt’s wedding in Lexington.

Clearly love was in the air that weekend, because Hamlin fell head-over-heels in love with UK, a college she had already described as her dream school.

That very day, she unenrolled from LSU and applied to UK.

“Crazy, right?” Hamlin said.

She said her year at UK was everything she could ever ask for, from being front row at every UK basketball game to being called back for a role in a campus production.

“My first year was practically a dream come true,” Hamlin said.

However, after only one semester, Hamlin realized the magnitude of the financial strain on her and her family. She decided that leaving UK was the best option.

“No matter how hard it was to leave this fairy tale,” Hamlin said.

College is a fairy tale for few people these days. The atmosphere of higher education is changing, from who goes to college, where they go and how much they pay for it.

At UK, tuition continues to rise as enrollment continues to fall, and the student body is ever changing.

With all the changes that have already come, what can be next for higher education?

Who’s going?

First-time enrollment at UK for the fall of 2017 is about 4,900, according to unofficial numbers from UK Personal Relations and Marketing Executive Director Jay Blanton.

Though preliminary numbers will not be available until September, the administration and Board of Trustees used an approximate anticipated number for budgeting purposes. 

Last fall’s enrollment was about 5,200, according to Blanton.

Blanton said the enrollment number of 4,900 was by design, meaning it is a goal and a number used for planning.

“We always want to ensure that we are continuing to make progress toward improving retention and graduation rates as we are aiming to progress to a 90 percent retention rate and a 70 percent graduation rate by 2020 as contemplated by our Strategic Plan,” Blanton said.

At UK, incoming student numbers have fallen since 2014, according to UK Institutional Research and Advanced Analytics.

According to Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) Executive Director of Data, Research and Analysis David Mahan, first-time, full-time enrollment grew for more than 20 years, but now it’s flat or diminishing in most parts of the country.

Only a few populations are increasing in college enrollment, Mahan said. Only the Hispanic population is still growing, though “nontraditional” students are growing as well. Nontraditional students are typically older than 25 and may already have some college completed.

More in-state students have always attended UK than out-of-state students, but the number of first-time students coming from out-of-state has steadily grown nearly every year.

In the fall of 2016, nearly 39 percent of incoming students were from outside Kentucky. Approximately 32 percent of the entire fall 2016 population at UK was from out of state. This is higher than the average out-of-state population at Kentucky’s higher education institutions, which is approximately 19 percent according to CPE data.

Blanton said that UK administration has placed an emphasis on recruiting outside the state in recent years, and the out-of-state population has grown in that time. An out-of-state population helps UK students as well as the commonwealth of Kentucky, Blanton said, particularly because about 40 percent of those students stay in the state after graduation.

Where are they going?

First-time enrollment at UK is declining, so where are students going other than UK? Mahan said that another positive trend in the last 20 years has been the number of institutions, so competition for students keeps getting tougher.

Some, like Ramey, seem to be choosing community and technical colleges over more expensive colleges like UK.

However, Kentucky Community and Technical College System institutions have had recent declines in enrollment as well. The last time the 16 colleges in the system had collective growth in enrollment was 2010.

In 2014-15, the most recent year CPE has data for, 11.8 percent of KCTCS students transferred to UK, ranking fourth among public four-year institutions.

All Kentucky higher education institutions may be left behind in some cases. Mahan said that when the economy is flourishing, people are less likely to return to school.

UK and other state schools may be losing students to other states, particularly if students can find a way to qualify for in-state tuition at other colleges. One way to qualify is to choose a major that no Kentucky institution offers. Mahan cited the University of Alabama and the University of South Carolina as destinations for Kentucky students leaving the state.

Of course, the same is true in reverse: UK is likely attracting out-of-state students with in-state tuition if their major isn’t offered in their home state.

How much are they paying?

According to the College Board, tuition and fees at public four-year institutions rose 9 percent between the 2011-12 and 2016-17 school years.

At UK, the tuition and fees for in-state students in 2017-18 is nearly 29 percent higher than it was in 2011.

Since last year, the in-state tuition rose 4 percent, corresponding to $18.8 million more from tuition this year, according to the UK Budget.

Blanton said that “only a handful of years ago,” the average annual increases in tuition was more than 10 percent.

The 4 percent raise was the maximum allowed by the CPE.

“The Council has done its part to coordinate and minimize needed tuition increases over the past few years,” Mahan said.

For out-of-state students like Hamlin, the rise in tuition and costs was 6.5 percent.

Out-of-state students are typically charged twice as much as in-state students.

Possible reasons for increases in tuition, according to Mahan: declining state revenue coupled with increasing costs (for employee benefits and facilities, for example) and flat or falling enrollment.

A 4 percent increase may not seem like much until it translates into thousands more dollars of debt for thousands of students.

According to Student Loan Hero, 44 million Americans owe a total of $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. For the class of 2016, the average was $37,172 per student, which is 6 percent higher than last year’s average.

Hamlin said that due to confusion about scholarship availability and deadlines, she accumulated $45,000 of student loan debt in her first year alone. She said her aunt, a 2000 UK alumna, is still paying off student debts of her own and expects to make her last payment in 2038.

Revenue from tuition makes up 13 percent of UK’s annual budget. Enrollment interacts with tuition when the Board of Trustees projects enrollment for and therefore how much revenue the university will receive from tuition for budgeting purposes.

“(Tuition) is always the last part of the budget we determine as the goal is always to hold down costs as much as possible to make a high-quality education at UK as accessible and affordable as possible,” Blanton said.

Blanton said that UK President Eli Capilouto has emphasized increasing financial aid that does not have to be paid back. This year, UK will provide about $126 million in financial aid, which is more than double what it was in 2011, when Capilouto became president.

What’s next?

Both Hamlin and Ramey have plans of being Wildcats someday— Hamlin again, Ramey for a long-awaited first time.

Hamlin has aspirations to be a lawyer, and she said she’d like to attend UK’s College of Law. The catch? She can only attend if “the tuition situation gets under control.”

After one more semester at BCTC, Ramey said he will transfer to UK and hopefully complete his chemical engineering degree within five semesters. While he’s looking forward to being on campus more, he is still “very wary” of the student debt he expects to accumulate during his time at UK.

If the trends continue as they have been— with enrollment going down and tuition going up— what will happen to higher education?

How many more students will be unable to attend their dream college?