Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum, R-Louisville, said Tuesday he was so frustrated with the escalating cost of university tuition and fees that he wants to freeze them for four years and then let state lawmakers decide if they should be changed.
In a Capitol news conference, Seum claimed that universities are “into castle building” and are doing so “on the back of kids.”
He chided university officials and the media for saying that universities must raise tuition because the state legislature has not been providing sufficient funds for them.
Since 2008, said Seum, lawmakers have cut university budgets by $165 million. But Seum said universities in that time have increased tuition by $582 million.
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It borders on criminal what these universities are doing to kids.
State Sen. Dan Seum, R-Louisville
The state Council on Postsecondary Education now oversees university tuition rates. Sue Patrick, a spokeswoman for the council, said it has no immediate comment because it has not had time to review Senate Bill 75.
Jay Blanton, spokesman for the University of Kentucky, said ensuring that students can afford to attend the university is “one of our top priorities.”
“To that end, we welcome the discussion about how we can all work together to make college even more affordable and accessible,” Blanton said.
Blanton noted that UK is investing a record $103 million in institutional scholarships and financial aid this year, nearly double what was provided in 2011.
He also said the number of first-generation college students has increased, as has the number of students eligible for federal Pell grants.
Without question, we are steadfastly committed to ensuring access to higher education for Kentucky families and their children and we look forward to discussing how we can continue to make progress in this most important of priorities.
Jay Blanton, spokesman for the University of Kentucky
“More than half of UK students continue to graduate without debt,” he said. “Without question, we are steadfastly committed to ensuring access to higher education for Kentucky families and their children and we look forward to discussing how we can continue to make progress in this most important of priorities.”
UK’s tuition has risen 85 percent since 2005, and there is plenty of new construction on campus. But most of those projects — a $65 business school renovation, a $100 million science building, and a $200 million student center — are being paid for with donations. Most recently, the state agreed to fund half of a $265 million research building. About $500 million in new dorms are being built by a private developer.
Seum noted that he has a granddaughter who graduated from Western Kentucky University with a $40,000 debt. He said she is dating a man who also has a $40,000 debt from WKU.
“It borders on criminal what these universities are doing to kids,” he said.
The average tuition rate in Kentucky is $5,440 a semester or $10,880 a year, said Seum.
“These universities see these students as nothing more than a cash cow,” he said.
Seum also said he is asking the Legislative Research Commission to conduct a study of university salaries.
His bill, said the lawmaker, is in “an uphill battle.” He said he expects the state’s higher education council and university presidents to strongly oppose it.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he talked earlier in the day with university presidents.
He said Seum’s bill is an opportunity for universities and the legislature to examine university costs.
“Are we getting the best value of our dollars?” he asked.
Stivers also said the Council on Postsecondary Education “has failed to do its job” in regulating university tuition rates.