Public college tuition hikes

In perhaps the least surprising news of the year, Kentuckians will soon pay more for a public college education. That is the assumption after a decision Tuesday by the Council on Postsecondary Education to allow tuition hikes in the range of 5 percent.

Trustees at individual colleges set the tuition rates each year, but given the battle over higher education funding in Frankfort, it seems likely that most of the state’s public universities and the Kentucky Technical and Community College System will hike tuition. Some have already announced increases, including Western Kentucky University (4.5 percent) and Northern Kentucky University (3 percent.)

According to The Associated Press, here’s what the Council on Postsecondary Education’s decision means for students: The University of Kentucky could hike tuition by $547 a year. The University of Louisville could increase its tuition by $527. At the regional universities tuition could increase $432 annually. Hopkinsville Community College’s tuition might be $9 more per credit hour. A full-time community college student taking 15 hours a semester would pay up to $270 more annually.

Hal Heiner, who is Gov. Matt Bevin’s new secretary for the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, wisely discouraged colleges from implementing large tuition increases.

“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.”

Like many states, Kentucky lacks a consensus on higher education funding. While almost everyone agrees that college and postsecondary vocational training is the key to lifting more Kentuckians out of poverty, there’s great disagreement over how much the state should invest in education.

The fracture is deepest between Bevin, the new Republican governor, and the Kentucky House, where Democrats hold a slim majority. Bevin was successful in securing 2 percent to higher education cuts in this fiscal year and 4.5 percent over the next two years. (The current-year cuts are being challenged in a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Andy Beshear.) Also, Bevin vetoed the House program that would provide free community college tuition for high school grads. The governor wants to delay that program until 2017-18.

These are all legitimate disagreements over policy and how to balance the state’s obligation to pay down pension plan shortfalls while also ensuring the viability of educational programs that prepare Kentuckians for good careers. Ultimately, the state needs to have more residents who are able to support themselves financially, and the way to achieve that is through postsecondary education.

Unfortunately, Kentucky is danger of making college unaffordable for the students who most need it. For that reason, we believe colleges should avoid rate hikes that add hundreds of dollars to a student’s tuition bill.

Kentucky New Era

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