FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education on Friday approved guidelines for tuition hikes for 2010-11 of 6 percent for the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville, 5 percent for comprehensive universities and 4 percent for community and technical colleges.
Last year's increase was staggered at 3 percent to 5 percent.
Some of the state's public university presidents and council members questioned why the in-state undergraduate tuition increases shouldn't be more than 6 percent. Even if each school adopts the maximum tuition increase allowed, all will be substantially in the red, according to the presidents.
And if the state doesn't adopt a budget soon, said council president Robert L. King, the universities will have to shut down temporarily. The common perception is that universities can run on tuition revenue in a budget pinch, but using tuition requires a budget appropriation, which requires that the state have a budget, King said.
After a 60-day legislative session that ended last week, Kentucky doesn't have a budget.
"Without a budget, we would need to close our campuses," King said. "... The likelihood of this impact is real and substantial."
The 4 percent to 6 percent tuition cap might not hold, however. Board member Joe Graviss suggested that university presidents and others approach the state's legislative leaders and Gov. Steve Beshear to ask for a 7 percent ceiling. Politically, the presidents fear that asking for more than 6 percent will lead to decreased state appropriations for education because legislators will perceive that colleges have enough revenue from tuition.
UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. told the council that he called Beshear on Thursday to tell Beshear he was going to ask for a 7 percent ceiling.
Even with a 6 percent increase, CPE figures show UK will have a deficit of nearly $7.6 million for operations. Eastern Kentucky University would have a deficit of $3.8 million with a 5 percent increase; Kentucky State University, $6.2 million after a 5 percent increase; and Morehead State University, $3.8 million after a 5 percent increase.
While the tuition increase is an undeniable hit in the pocketbook for students and their parents, several of the university presidents said few students pay the full "sticker price" for their educations: Many get need-based or merit scholarships and need-based grants.
Todd insisted that Kentucky is in no danger of pricing itself out of the higher education market. Using North Carolina, which invested heavily in higher education beginning in the 1950s, as an example, Todd said the cure for higher tuition bills is to put more money into the pockets of Kentucky workers, which a booming economy spurred by thriving universities would create.
North Carolina, he said, is able to subsidize in-state tuition because of the high demand among out-of-state students to pay to attend outstanding public universities there.
Todd said he prefers two years of "moderate" increases of more than 6 percent rather than approving a lower tuition cap this year. He said he thinks that will trigger the need for a higher increase next year. UK needs to revamp its undergraduate curriculum and get its teacher-student ratio down, he said.
"Are we still serious about helping the universities get where they need to be?" Todd asked. " ... I'm just concerned that we're just mentally sliding along trying to keep everybody semi-happy."
But several council members said that, in a recession, universities have to present more information proving that they're successful to trigger support for large tuition increases.
"We need to put a little competition amongst the universities," said Joe Wise, a member of the council.
Presidents of the comprehensive universities said they are concerned that by setting a different level of tuition increase, the council is creating separate and unequal classes of public education institutions.
Said Gary Ransdell, the president of Western Kentucky University: "You're beginning to create a system of haves and have-nots"