Tuition freeze unfeasible but well-intentioned

It is not difficult to understand the motivation and even the good intention of Republican Sen. Dan Seum of Fairdale, who has submitted legislation in the General Assembly that would freeze tuition and fees at state colleges and universities for four years.

Senate Bill 75 would require the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education to limit tuition and fees for resident students at public colleges and universities to the 2015-16 tuition level for four years.

Seum cited concern over the burden of student debt, which has a close relationship to rapid increases in tuition at Kentucky institutions and other states as well.

Student debt is indeed a problem, and in many cases can take years to repay.

The senator believes colleges and universities take advantage of their students. “They see these kids as cash cows,” he said.

At that point we part company with Seum, because while tuition at Western Kentucky University has increased 37 percent since 2008, state appropriations as part of the revenue stream went from 43 percent in 1997-98 to 18 percent in 2012-13.

Other public institutions of higher learning in our state could probably report similar numbers.

Simply stated, as state appropriations have dramatically declined, those dollars must be recaptured somewhere else, and that somewhere is tuition.

Colleges have large numbers of administrators, professors and support staff who must be paid, and the cost of supplies, services and health care are increasing.

Some of the blame for rapid tuition increases coupled with declining state appropriations lies directly with our elected leaders.

Admittedly, Kentucky is a poor state, and like its sister states, saw tax revenue decline during the recession that started in 2008.

Tax reform, which has received much lip service but no action, has the potential to provide a more reliable revenue stream in good times and bad.

Former Gov. Steve Beshear basically ignored the recommendations of his own tax reform commission, and the General Assembly demonstrated no eagerness to take up the cause.

The legislature, the House in particular, could also find more money for both secondary and postsecondary education if they would only repeal prevailing wage mandates on school and university construction projects. The Kentucky Senate recently voted 26-11 to repeal the mandate for these projects, but House Speaker Greg Stumbo says it is dead on arrival.

Because of these realities, don’t expect Seum’s bill to gain traction. Perhaps he simply introduced it as a means of calling attention to the cost of college and the burden of student debt.

For the near term, at least we can probably expect state appropriations to either be flat or continue to decline and for tuition to continue to increase at Kentucky colleges and universities. .

Daily News of Bowling Green

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