The University of Kentucky would have to limit any tuition increase next year to 5 percent under a recommendation before the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.
The agency is proposing a tiered system for capping tuition increases, in which UK and the University of Louisville could charge up to 5 percent more in the 2009-10 academic year.
The six regional universities — including Eastern Kentucky University, Morehead State University and Kentucky State University — could increase tuition up to 4 percent. The Kentucky Community and Technical College System could boost its rate 3 percent, according to the draft recommendation from the council's staff.
"Most of the response we've gotten has been a sense of relief that the numbers are in the range that they're in and that this has been a collaborative process," said Council President Robert King, who has been talking with university officials, Gov. Steve Beshear and key lawmakers about the plan.
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Student leaders at UK praised the proposal.
"The decision does represent a genuine effort to try to balance the financial constraints for families and the academic quality of the institutions," said Christopher J. Crumrine, the student representative on the CPE and a student at the UK Martin School of Public Policy and Administration.
Tyler Montell, UK's student body president, said holding the tuition increase to 5 percent next year would be a "surprise to people" who have gotten used to 8-10 percent increases.
"Five percent is significantly lower than where we've been in the last several years," he said.
He noted that students also will get help next year from the federal stimulus bill, which added tax deductions for students and increased Pell Grant financial awards by $500.
Council members will be asked to approve the recommended caps at their March 6 meeting. The CPE sets broad policies, including tuition rates, for the state's public universities and colleges.
If the tuition cap system is finalized, the trustees or regents at each institution would then approve their individual budgets and tuition rates for next year.
UK officials, for instance, expect to present their tuition proposal to university trustees at the March 10 meeting.
"The council staff's proposed tuition rate ceilings are an appropriate response to concerns about affordability while reflecting the differences among the postsecondary institutions in our missions and mandates," UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. said in a statement Wednesday. "If the full council approves the ceilings, we will recommend to our Board of Trustees tuition rates in line with them."
Last year, UK raised its tuition 9 percent, to nearly $8,000 for undergraduates. The rate for "lower division" students who aren't taking specialized courses in their major is $7,736 and would be capped at $8,123 next year under the council's proposal. Students in the upper division pay $7,960 in tuition this year and would see their tuition capped at $8,358 next year.
The proposal to curtail more sharp tuition increases comes on the heels of 2 percent mid-year cuts in state funding for higher education.
Despite diminished reliance on state dollars, university leaders and politicians have pledged to hold down tuition increases in light of the recession.
"For the last 10 years, tuition has gone up an average of 10 percent. Therefore, these recommendations represent a positive development in our efforts to make college more affordable for Kentuckians," Beshear said in a statement.
King, the CPE president, said the tiered system came about after council members heard presentations last week from representatives of all three types of universities.
"It's largely a reflection of those different cost structures and those different missions" of the institutions as laid out in higher education reforms of 1997, King said.
For instance, KCTCS is charged with providing affordable classes for students seeking associate's degrees or satisfying general education courses to transfer to four-year schools.
Last year, during a messy and contentious tuition setting process, KCTCS requested a 13 percent tuition increase before the council slashed it to 5.2 percent.
Leaders at KCTCS declined to comment on the latest proposal, said KCTCS spokeswoman Terry Giltner.
King said he thought KCTCS officials "were OK with it."