College costs at crisis levels

On June 19, the Kansas Board of Regents voted to increase tuition at all six state universities. Fort Hays State students will suffer the least with a 3.4-percent increase. At the other end of the spectrum, Wichita State students will be hit with an 8-percent increase in tuition. Students who are already at the University of Kansas benefit from a policy that allows them to lock in tuition at the same rate for four years as freshmen, but new students will pay 4.9 percent more than last year’s freshmen.

Tuition increasing faster than inflation at public universities is nothing new. It’s been going on for more than a decade. Every year I was at Kansas State University, starting in 2002, tuition rose. The College Board has found that at four-year public colleges in the Midwest, one year’s tuition, fees, room, and board have increased nearly $5,000 — adjusted for inflation — in the past decade. Woe to students in the western states, where costs have increased $7,000.

The days when a summer job could pay for a full year’s tuition are long gone. At the same time costs are rising, a college education is becoming more important in finding a good career. Scholarships and grants aren’t increasing as quickly, and the result is that more students are having to borrow larger sums of money to go to college.

In 2011, 64 percent of new college graduates in Kansas left school with debt, and the average being more than $23,000. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported in 2012 that total student loan debt had passed $1 trillion. The cost of college is creating a generation of debtors who don’t reach their full purchasing power until they are in their 30s. I can think of a few things I would rather do with my student loan payments.

So, what is to blame for the high cost of college? Universities are hardly the most efficient institutions. So many get caught up in the race to have every bell and whistle they can think of to attract students.

However, the Kansas Legislature deserves more scrutiny. This year the legislature cut funding to the six state universities by $18.9 million. State universities got about 75 percent of their funding from the state in the 1970s. Now the state’s share is 22 percent. At that level, it’s farcical to call them “state” universities anymore.

I don’t like selling naming rights to stadiums, let alone public institutions, but at this point, maybe it is time for the universities to auction the naming rights to buildings, departments, or entire colleges to the highest bidder. Imagine, the Pfizer College of Health Professions at Wichita State or the Monsanto College of Agriculture at Kansas State. I think most students would take it if it meant lower tuition.

— ADAM STEWART

 

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