Final Kansas budget locks in public university tuition freeze, but fee hikes are still on table

Kelly: $37.5 million budget hike sufficient to hold line on student tuition

By: - June 1, 2022 6:03 am
Gov. Laura Kelly, right, and University of Kansas chancellor Doug Girod, chat during a 2021 groundbreaking ceremony. The politics of higher education resulted in a $37.5 million budget increase for state universities, but a freeze on tuition rates. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Gov. Laura Kelly, right, and University of Kansas chancellor Doug Girod, chat during a 2021 groundbreaking ceremony. The politics of higher education resulted in a $37.5 million budget increase for state universities, but a freeze on tuition rates. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

LAWRENCE — Kansas public university students uneasy about the cost of their education dodged a tuition hike this fall, but won’t know until mid-June whether they’ll be dinged with higher campus fees.

Maneuvering by the Legislature and governor on tuition added complexity to the task of pulling together university budgets for the fiscal year starting July 1. The Kansas Board of Regents are preparing to vote on what campus fees get elevated at the system’s six universities.

The $37.5 million allocated by the Legislature to universities governed by the Board of Regents, and Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a budget provision that would have allowed tuition increases, mean students wouldn’t pay more in tuition during the 2022-2023 school year. It would be the fourth consecutive year without a tuition rate adjustment at the University of Kansas following the 2.8% boost in 2019. The five other universities in the system have each adopted tuition increases twice in the past five years.

Cheryl Harrison-Lee, chairwoman of the Board of Regents, said affordability of higher education was a center piece on the system’s priority list. Status quo tuition rates and more need-based student financial aid will combine to improve student access to education, she said.

In January, Kelly and the Board of Regents requested a $45.7 million increase from the Legislature. The justification was a desire to restore funding cut in the past, acknowledge a projected inflation rate of 1.9% and initiate a 2% budget increase to put off higher tuition rates.

The budget adopted by the House and Senate was $8 million less than sought by the Board of Regents. To cover the gap, university administrators in Lawrence, Manhattan, Wichita, Emporia, Pittsburg and Hays drafted proposals for tuition increases ranging from 1.07% at KU to 3.07% at Fort Hays State University, which has the system’s lowest tuition. Officials at the other state universities in Kansas set their sights on tuition increases of 1% to 1.3%.

Those plans were withdrawn after Kelly line-item vetoed the budget proviso opening the door to higher tuition. Kelly said higher education in Kansas was on solid footing because the universities could expect to receive $1 billion in the new fiscal year.

“I believe that the regents institutions will be able to continue to hold tuition flat, making college more affordable for Kansans of all backgrounds. This is especially important if we, as a state, are going to provide the workforce needed to fully actualize the benefits and opportunities of our recent economic growth,” Kelly said.

KU chancellor Doug Girod said the governor’s rejection of the tuition-increase option left university officials no choice but to embrace a tuition freeze, but wouldn’t necessarily block changes to campus or academic fees.

He said Board of Regents universities were grateful for nearly securing their full budget request to the 2022 Legislature.

“It played out as well as we could have hoped,” Girod said. “We certainly are most grateful to the governor and the Legislature for the support they have passed our way.”

Ken Hush, interim president at Emporia State University, said the university had concluded after the legislative session ended that a 3% tuition increase would have been appropriate. That idea was trimmed to 1% before abandoned in response to the veto. A 1% increase in ESU tuition would equate to $221,000 in new revenue.

“We felt it was a good investment,” Hush said. “We embrace what’s happened.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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