Tuition hike to receive more scrutiny

Whether or not UK’s proposed tuition increases will be made official by the state’s highest education authority is in question, said some members of the Council on Postsecondary Education.

“There will be no rubber-stamping this time,” said Ryan Quarles, student member of the council and a UK law student.

For the last few years, the CPE has automatically approved universities’ tuition rates as long as the amount fell under a cap set by the council.

This year an unofficial 9 percent cap was set, and for the first time, the CPE will hold tuition hearings with representatives from each university. The hearings on April 30 and May 1 will be an opportunity for university representatives to explain why the universities’ proposed rates should be approved, Quarles said.

UK approved a 9 percent increase for in-state students and a 6.6 percent increase for out-of-state students. A 9 percent rise is a hefty increase that burdens students and lets university presidents escape some

accountability, said Mark Wattier, a CPE member.

“Tuition increases prevent presidents from making some hard choices,” said Wattier, who is still undecided on how he will vote. He did say he plans to vote against a proposed 13 percent increase for Kentucky Community and Technical Colleges’ tuition rate.

After Tuesday’s Board of Trustees meeting, UK President Lee Todd said he doesn’t think the current council does enough to understand each university’s specific needs. He also said the CPE puts presidents in the awkward position of having to lobby for funding when the council should be doing it.

In a meeting yesterday with Gov. Steve Beshear, university presidents discussed their concern about the CPE’s role in the development of budgets. Todd was out of town and did not attend the meeting. A spokesperson for Beshear declined to comment on the meeting, saying it was private.

Wattier said the CPE does not usually participate in official legislative action because the council is a “court of last resort” to go to when there are higher education issues. The CPE has done its part in promoting higher education goals, he said.

A decision on university tuition will be made by the CPE on May 9. UK’s hearing is scheduled for May 1 at 9:50 a.m. in the state Capitol. It is open to the public.

CPE Interim President Brad Cowgill declined to comment on UK’s specific rate of increase, but in a news release he said “a strong consensus has emerged among council members that favors a conservative approach to tuition growth.”

Quarles said while he will reserve judgment until he hears each university’s testimony, he anticipates tuition discussions to be more like a trial and less like a free pass.

“We want to give everyone their day in court,” he said.