FRANKFORT (AP) — State regulators have approved maximum tuition increases of about $500 a year for students at Kentucky’s colleges and universities.
The increases come after an intense legislative session during which lawmakers approved Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s 4.5-percent spending cuts on colleges and universities, about $40 million altogether. Much of the debate in the state legislature focused on how the cuts would impact tuition for the upcoming school year.
The increases approved by the Council on Postsecondary Education on Tuesday would equal about 5 percent for most institutions.
The increases are not mandatory. Each institution’s board of trustees must decide whether to raise tuition for the upcoming school year. They cannot raise tuition beyond the limits the council set on Tuesday. But colleges and universities have often raised tuition close to the full amount allowed.
Bevin was in Germany on Tuesday attending an industrial technology convention. Hal Heiner, Bevin’s secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, said the council should not have approved any tuition caps until after Bevin had a chance to appoint new members to the board.
“A 5 percent tuition increase would not be responsible. The budget reduction impacts 1 percent of the universities’ budgets,” Heiner said. “It is our expectation that our colleges and universities will find ways to operate efficiently, without passing undue tuition increases to their students. After extensive conversations with university presidents, we believe this is possible.”
But council President Bob King attributed only a portion of the tuition increases to Bevin’s budget cuts. In addition to the $40 million in cuts, King says colleges and universities will have to pay an extra $85 million in retirement benefits, student financial aid and increased expenses such as health insurance and maintenance.
The tuition increases will make up about $61 million of that deficit, leaving a nearly $65 million shortfall. Even if the legislature had not approved Bevin’s cuts, King said colleges and universities still would likely have had to raise tuition anyway.
“These places are expensive to run,” King said, but added Kentucky students pay less on average than students in the nearby states of Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois.
For the state’s two research universities, the most they could raise tuition is 5 percent. That’s an increase of $547 per student per year at the University of Kentucky and $527 per student per year for the University of Louisville. The limit is $432 per student per year for the state’s comprehensive universities: Western Kentucky, Northern Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State, Murray State and Kentucky State.
The 16 institutions in the Kentucky Community and Technical College system each earned increases of up to $7 per credit hour.
State lawmakers urged college and university presidents not to raise tuition to the full amount. Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo noted the House tried to pass a budget “that didn’t cut higher education at all” but eventually agreed to a compromise that included smaller cuts than Bevin had originally proposed.
“My hope is that the college and university leaders avoid tuition increases as much as possible and find other ways to absorb some of these costs,” Stumbo said.
Mike Wilson, the Republican chairman of the state Senate Education Committee, noted colleges and universities raise tuition every year, even when the legislature increases their funding.
“I believe universities should be sensitive to their clientele. Three percent, to me, would seem like a moderate increase,” he said.
More cuts could be coming. Bevin cut spending for most colleges and universities by nearly $18 million for the final three months of the fiscal year. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear sued Bevin, arguing he does not have the authority to cut spending without the approval of the state legislature. The case is pending.