FRANKFORT — Tuition rates at Kentucky public universities will most likely go up for in-state students next school year but not to the degree of 7-10 percent jumps most schools imposed this year, several presidents said.
To make sure, though, the Council on Postsecondary Education will spend the next week hammering out a tuition cap to hold down the increases for the 2009-10 academic year. The council also will set a minimum level for increases for out-of-state students, who could be asked to shoulder a larger percentage of the tuition burden in coming years.
Council President Bob King said he plans to discuss a recommended tuition increase "ceiling" with legislative leaders and Gov. Steve Beshear before the full council votes to finalize the plan at its March 5-6 meeting.
Neither King nor university leaders, including University of Kentucky President Lee T. Todd Jr., would offer or suggest any number for the tuition increase ceiling at Monday's two-hour CPE meeting about college affordability and budgeting.
"The tuition door for us has been closing over the last few years," Todd told council members. "We're concerned about the levels that we are right now."
UK raised its tuition rates 9 percent for this year, while Eastern Kentucky University increased 7 percent. The CPE scaled back some of the universities' tuition requests last spring, most notably rolling back the Kentucky Community and Technical College System's proposed 13 percent increase to 5.2 percent.
The community colleges and all eight public four-year universities in Kentucky have ratcheted up their tuition rates over the last 10 years as state funding has remained static.
Kentucky's public universities, however, are educating 32 percent more undergraduate students now — a leap from 161,000 students in 1998 to 213,000 in 2007, according to a presentation made Monday by Eastern Kentucky University President Doug Whitlock.
So, with tuition surpassing state funding as universities' highest source of money last year, the balancing act becomes tougher. The schools rely on that revenue as never before but don't want to price too many students out of going to college, especially in these tough economic times.
"We feel like we've about run the string on ... big tuition increases," Whitlock told reporters. "If you had a big jump and wound up serving fewer students, that hurts. So it's striking that right balances that doesn't push us over the point of diminishing returns."
Higher education leaders are considering new ways of trying to calculate tuition, including possibly returning to a complicated formula that would take into account everything from the expense of certain degree programs to the amount of research done in each department.
Todd also said one of UK's goals is to be able to charge even more for out-of-state students as top-flight schools such as the University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin and University of North Carolina do. Their rates are three to five times the amount of the schools' in-state tuition, which in some ways helps subsidize students from the home state.
Later, Todd said UK isn't to the point where it can boost out-of-state student tuition yet because it's still bolstering the university's reputation outside Kentucky to increase demand.
This year UK's base out-of-state tuition cost is about $16,000, double the nearly $8,000 in-state rate.