Eastern Kentucky University officials plan to freeze tuition next year, President Michael Benson announced in a campus-wide email Wednesday in an apparent attempt to stimulate enrollment.
In the email, Benson noted that EKU serves some of the poorest counties in the country, and nearly half its students are first-generation, low-income or both.
“We are committed to making the goal of an Eastern Kentucky University education within the reach of all those who wish to pursue it,” Benson wrote. “But our recent pattern of annual tuition hikes in the range of 3 to 5 percent are not sustainable.”
He plans to make the recommendation to the EKU Board of Regents at their regular meeting next week. The cost of housing and meal plans would rise 3 percent.
The total cost of attendance for the 2017-18 school year — including tuition, fees, housing, meals, books and transportation — is about $22,000 a year for Kentucky residents and about $32,000 for out-of-state students. Compared to other state universities, the cost of attending EKU is in the middle of the pack.
The timing of Benson’s announcement is unusual, since most schools don’t set tuition rates until after state legislators decide how much money they’ll provide public universities. That figure won’t likely be known until mid-April of 2018. Gov. Matt Bevin and lawmakers have already publicly warned of potentially large spending cuts in the next state budget as they grapple with a public pension crisis that could require an additional $1 billion in spending next year.
EKU, like all public universities, has seen its state support slashed in recent years. State funding made up 43 percent of EKU’s budget in 2007 but is now down to 26.7 percent.
This is, however, the time of year that students fill out college applications.
According to material prepared for next week’s regents meeting, EKU’s 2017 enrollment dropped in several areas, including total enrollment (-321), new freshmen (-66) and graduate students (-131). Those declines came despite goals of growing enrollment from roughly 16,000 students to 18,000.
“Current and prospective students, and their families are already evaluating their budgets and making their choices for future semesters,” EKU spokeswoman Kristi Middleton said. “A proposal to freeze tuition rates is the first step that signals EKU strives to be an affordable, attractive option for students seeking educational advancement, and EKU is willing to make this commitment to our students now.”
EKU officials would not comment further on the topic before next week’s board meeting.