After enduring three years without any increase in pay, faculty and staff at the University of Kentucky more than deserve the raises — averaging 3 percent — President Lee T. Todd Jr. has proposed for next year.
Unfortunately, the gain by the faculty and staff will come at the expense of pain inflicted on UK students and their families.
Todd's proposed pay raise for faculty and staff comes accompanied by a proposal to raise tuition 6 percent next year. Bottom line, the cost of attending UK will increase by $259 per semester for in-state freshmen and sophomores and $267 for in-state juniors and seniors.
In the 2001-02 school year, the annual base cost of tuition and mandatory fees for UK's in-state students was $3,735. Next year, it will be $9,138. That's a 144 percent increase in a 10-year period.
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UK's tuition increases, whether looking forward into the next school year or looking back over the past 10 years, are not unique. The University of Louisville has proposed a similar 6 percent tuition increase for next year. The Eastern Kentucky University Board of Regents voted to raise undergraduate tuition for in-state students by the maximum amount the state Council on Postsecondary Education approves.
Students at other state universities and community and technical schools can expect to see their tuition increase as well. And just like UK, the cost of attending those colleges and universities has steadily increased over the past decade.
While undergraduate tuition for its in-state students more than doubled in that decade, the net support for undergraduate education UK received from the state remained relatively stagnant since 2001-02.
There were years of peaks and years of valleys, but the $226 million state contribution for 2010-11 school year was just $2 million more than the $224 million UK received in 2001-02.
Again, UK is not unique. It's numbers are just an example of what all state institutions of higher learning have experienced with state appropriations during the past decade.
Sure, times have been tough in the halls of state government during this period, particularly in the last few years. Revenues have dipped. Budgets have been lean. Belts have been tightened. And cuts have been made in many agencies.
So, there should be no gripe from a public higher education community that has seen its state funding remain relatively constant while other state agencies endured cuts, right?
Well, no. Students at public colleges and universities have a big gripe.
With a couple of exceptions when the fiscal times got really dire, the governors who proposed and the lawmakers who enacted the lean spending plans of recent years ended the process bragging about "balancing the budget in difficult times without raising taxes." And they lied through their teeth every time they made that boast.
Taxes on students attending state colleges and universities (and the families of those students) have increased annually throughout the last decade — because tuition increases are tax increases by another name.
More important, they are short-sighted tax increases. Every time politicians in Frankfort chant the "Now is not the time to raise taxes" and "Now is not the time to do tax reform" mantras and pass a budget forcing an increase in the tuition tax, they price young Kentuckians out of the opportunity to get a college education.
Since an educated workforce is a necessity for creating the kind of jobs that could elevate Kentucky's economy and produce much-needed additional revenue for the state, pricing young Kentuckians out of a college education makes it more difficult for the state to end the cycle of revenue shortfalls, lean budgets and tuition tax increases it has endured over the past decade.