Kansas’ universities are walking a tightrope, balancing their need for funding with their need for students.
To get more money — or sometimes, just to keep their budgets the same — they have to increase tuition. But they’re now facing enrollment drops that might worsen if that increase is too high.
A key part of that equation is dwindling state funding over the last 10-15 years, which has led public post-secondary schools to lean ever more on money from its students.
The state Legislature doesn’t want to increase funding, but the state, in the form of the Kansas Board of Regents, also controls whether schools can raise prices.
Earlier this week, the Regents decided all of the state’s public schools should keep tuition flat for next year. K-State had requested a 3.4 percent increase and later reduced that request to 1.5 percent. The other schools did not request increases, and the Regents decided K-State should stay flat, too.
That’s fine with us; college has become prohibitively expensive, to the point that many young people are now choosing not to go. While a four-year school isn’t for everyone, attending one ought to be reasonably attainable. That’s the purpose of public colleges and universities, so we think should try to be as cost-efficient as possible.
That said, K-State and other schools are in a tricky spot. If they can’t get money from either source? Obviously the only choice is to make cuts. This year, it looks like K-State will have to cut 4% from its budget.
If the state is not going to fund higher education as well as it needs to be funded, perhaps schools should have more autonomy about tuition prices. Perhaps they should be able to make their own decisions.
This is the rub. Tuition is a sensitive political issue. And as we said, universities are walking a tightrope. Ultimately it’s up to them to make sure they don’t fall.