UK addresses students’ tuition concerns

By Kelli Long

About 20 students and faculty members gathered Friday in the Worsham Theater as a UK official outlined the university’s challenging financial outlook, which will likely include a 9 percent tuition increase for students next year.

UK is fighting to close the $17.8 million funding gap it faces heading into the 2008-09 school year, said Angie Martin, vice president for planning, budget and policy.

In its budget this month, the state legislature approved a $20 million cut in funding for UK. Even after the tuition increase and other sources of revenue, UK expects to have an $8.4 million deficit. That shortage, along with a $9.4 million increase in expenses, has left university officials searching for ways to balance the budget.

The tuition hike, 9 percent for in-state students and 6.6 percent for out-of-state students, is expected to generate about $5.6 million. Lower-division undergraduate students from Kentucky would pay an extra $640 a year, and out-of-state lower-division students would pay $988 more.

Mandatory student fees are expected to increase about $72 per year, and dining rates would increase about $78 depending on the dining plan a student chooses. Since housing rates are expected to stay the same, the total proposed increase for an in-state lower-division student living on campus would be $790.

“It concerns me that students will decide not to come to college because of the perceived cost,” Martin said. “The council is letting middle and high school students know about higher education and the many scholarships and loans available.”

Kentucky ranks 46 out of the 50 states in per capita income, making the tuition increases especially painful for in-state students, Martin said.

UK currently has the highest tuition rate of any public university in Kentucky, but it is at or below the median of its benchmark institutions and neighboring public institutions, according to the forum presentation.

Ashley Collette, a mass media communications senior, said she worries about how perpetual tuition increases will affect her family as her younger brother looks to attend college.

The increases will likely deter students from coming to UK, “especially those from in state,” she said.

In an e-mail earlier this month, President Lee Todd said UK would have to raise tuition 18 percent to fully offset state budget cuts, which he said would have been “simply too high.”

To fight the deficit that will remain, UK will reduce its budget by $14 million with cuts to colleges and departments across campus, Todd said in the e-mail.

UK’s financial challenges come in the midst of its quest to become a top-20 research institution by 2020. The state mandated 11 years ago that UK achieve this goal to improve education and help make Kentucky a better place to work and live.

Kentucky lags behind other states in average household income, poverty level and the amount spent on health care. All of these factors are linked to educational attainment, Martin said, and reaching top-20 status would help close the gap between Kentucky and other states.

But many officials and professors have said it would be difficult to close that gap while keeping college affordable.

Adding to that challenge is UK’s enrollment trend. Fall undergraduate enrollment saw its first drop in seven years in 2007, due mostly to a lower number of freshmen and transfer students coming to UK, Martin said.

The next step in the budget process is on April 22, when the proposed tuition and mandatory fee increases will be presented to the Board of Trustees. The rates will then go to the Kentucky Council on Post Secondary Education for tuition hearings. On May 9, a final decision will be made on tuition increases for the state’s public universities and community colleges.