The University of Kentucky Board of Trustees approved a 6 percent tuition increase for the upcoming academic year on Tuesday, bringing the total cost of tuition, fees and housing for in-state undergraduates to $16,518 a year.
The increase got push-back from some trustees, who said they worry about the long-term escalation of tuition costs and its effects on Kentucky families. In the past 10 years, UK tuition has increased 147 percent.
According to a recent study by the University of Virginia, UK's in-state tuition now is more than in-state tuition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Texas at Austin.
"I'm very, very troubled knowing the vote I am making would have kept me from going to school," said trustee Pam May, who urged UK administrators to keep looking for more ways to cut costs.
Trustee Jo Hern Curris pointed out that while the Council on Postsecondary Education allowed UK to raise tuition up to 6 percent, it wasn't required to do so.
"I'm very concerned about the average family in Kentucky and what this means to the average family," Curris said.
She said that after this year, she no longer could support 6 percent increases and that she was pleased to see that a 3 percent tuition increase is being proposed for 2013-14.
UK officials have said repeatedly that declines in state support and other costs make tuition increases unavoidable. During the next two years, UK is facing a $20 million loss in state aid, and a $23 million increase in fixed costs such as insurance and utilities.
Officials are working on a budget that will be presented to the board next month. Under the proposal, administrative units that report directly to the president would have to cut spending 11.4 percent during the next two years, while academic units would face 7.5 percent cuts.
Faculty and staff would not get a raise in 2012-13 but would share a 5 percent merit pool the next year.
In fall 2011, 91 percent of UK's 13,186 undergraduates received some kind of financial aid, said Angie Martin, UK's vice president of finance. That aid paid for $3,468 of the average student's $4,558 bill for tuition and fees per semester. That aid did not include housing, dining, books or other expenses.
UK has increased its scholarships from 18 percent of all student aid received by students in 2006 to 33 percent in 2011. That's compared to a downturn in state aid: In 2006, state financial aid made up 41 percent of aid to UK students; now it's down to 27 percent.
Trustees disagreed about the effect of tuition increases on students.
"I don't see any super burden on individuals," said Jim Stuckert, a past chairman and CEO of Hilliard Lyons, a wealth-management firm.
Trustee Sheila Brothers referenced an earlier presentation on Owsley County, one of the five poorest counties in the nation.
"I might add that folks in Owsley County might have a different perspective on this," she said.
May also questioned a chart presented by Martin that showed 47 percent of UK students have student loans with an average debt load of $23,500. Then Martin showed a chart that said a graduate in the United States with a $55,700 salary could pay off that debt in two years.
"I suspect very few people will start by getting $55,000 in Kentucky's environment," May said. "I don't want to rely too much on it. It might be misleading that it's so easy to pay this money back."
Faculty trustees Irina Voro and John Wilson abstained from the vote.
Wilson said he abstained because he's concerned about the effects of tuition increases on more expensive graduate degrees. In addition, he is worried about upcoming budget cuts.
"I would have rather considered all these factors together," Wilson said. "I really hate to commit to this when we don't know what the effects of cuts on the academic units will be."
Student trustee Micah Fielden said he supported the increase because he thinks anything less would lead to fewer teachers and fewer classes.
"Over the long term, we'll be creating an environment that is more affordable for our students," Fielden said. "A 6 percent increase is manageable when you look at what could be the cost of another year or another semester."
After the meeting, President Eli Capilouto said the increase would be balanced with cuts within the institution.
"We're going to do our best to make sure we become as efficient as possible without cutting essential services to students," he said.
In other business, the board's new athletics committee held its first meeting since the dissolution of the UK Athletics Association. The members did not take any action but heard about many positive activities in that division.
Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford