The University of Kentucky plans to increase tuition 6 percent for students next school year, which would help pay for an average 3 percent raise for faculty and staff members — the first they've had in three years.
"I understand the pain tuition increases cause our students and their families," President Lee T. Todd Jr. wrote in a campus-wide email sent out Tuesday afternoon. "But we do our students a grave and lasting disservice if we let the quality of their undergraduate experience erode. And it will erode if flat salaries result in faculty and staff departures and if flat budgets keep us from investing in this university's progress.
"This tuition increase strikes the right balance between the continuing struggles Kentuckians face in a still fragile economy and the needs of the university," he wrote.
The tuition hike would mean a $259 increase each semester for resident students who are freshmen and sophomores, making annual tuition $9,128. Juniors and seniors would pay $267 additional per semester, while graduate students would pay $280.
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The increases would generate an additional $14.8 million, but there would still be a $20 million hole in the budget.
UK's Board of Trustees and the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education must approve the tuition increase. The council meets on April 28 to determine the maximum tuition increase for all state universities.
UK's Board of Trustees will vote on the tuition increase at its May 3 meeting, when it will also vote to hire a new president to replace Todd, who is retiring. The entire budget, including the proposed raises, would be approved at the June meeting.
Tuition has increased 130 percent at UK in the past decade. It went up 6 percent last year as well.
"I think that students understand the value of a quality education, and the quality of the faculty and instructors contribute significantly," said UK student Ryan Smith, who represents his peers as a trustee. "But as a student representative, I understand that students are struggling to pay for student loans, rent and books and all the costs of being a student."
At Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, the Board of Regents on Monday approved raising resident undergraduate tuition by whatever maximum the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education approves. Eastern's regents also approved increasing graduate tuition a maximum of 5.03 percent and added 3.75 percent to meal plan rates.
The University of Louisville also has proposed a 6 percent tuition increase.
UK faces a $3.1 million reduction in state support next fiscal year, and $21 million in increased operating expenses, including scholarships and utilities. The 3 percent salary pool would cost an additional $11.2 million. All salary increases would be based on merit, so some would receive more, some less than 3 percent. In addition, health care premium costs would stay the same.
Former faculty trustee Ernie Yanarella said that while the raise was "a step forward," the pool means that most faculty and staff will get an average that will be smaller than 3 percent.
"After the pie is cut up by the provost and deans, people won't see much of an increase," he said. "The thing I'm most concerned about is what lies ahead: (Tuition) is a tax on Kentucky families at a time when the economy is still not showing improvement. Tuition increases are getting harder and harder to swallow."
State support of UK has gone from $335.1 million in 2007-08 to $303.4 million in 2011-12, an almost 10 percent decline. In the past decade, state funding has remained nearly flat at a time when UK was trying to meet a state mandate to reach the tier of Top 20 public research universities.
This year, state support fell an additional 1 percent, which will be felt by UK's academic units in budget cuts.
"There's real pain here," said UK Provost Kumble R. Subbaswamy.
The tuition increase will close the current deficit to about $20 million. Subbaswamy said that the budget has been helped by improved retention rates, which increase tuition revenue, and programs such as the school's expanded on-line class selection.
But there still will be between $11 million and $12 million to find. UK will probably leave faculty and staff positions open, but "we're talking about how to allocate and minimize the negative impact on academics," Subbaswamy said.
He called the salary increase minimal, as faculty salaries at UK are falling behind all its benchmarks, which means that other schools will be able to cherry-pick the best teachers.
"It would have been irresponsible to go into a fourth year without an increase," he said. "We've tried to balance this as well as we can."
The salary bump would not apply to UK HealthCare employees.
'Reward our faculty'
Alan Nadel, the William T. Bryan Chair in American literature and culture, said the raise pool was consistent with what the university offered before the budget crisis.
"It's just pretending these three years never occurred," he said, because the faculty would never catch up in what their salaries would have been with annual raises during the past three years.
Board of Trustees Chairman Britt Brockman said he thinks the board will support the proposal.
"I think it's unfortunate that students and their families are being called upon to pay more and more, but, at the same time, we have to do everything we can to reward our faculty who have gone three years without any raises," he said.
The Board of Trustees has angered some faculty and staff with a discussion of paying Todd's replacement a minimum of $700,000, while the rest of the campus suffers.
"The problem is we need a leader who can come in and take this $2.5 billion organization and figure out a way to pay our faculty, who deserve raises," Brockman said. "Everyone is demanding they be qualified to do miraculous things on campus, but that will take someone in high demand. When you're in high demand, you have to pay top market salaries."
UK will hold a budget forum for the campus community on Monday, April 25, in the Center Theater of the Student Center to discuss the budget in more detail.