Jayhawks for Higher Education: April 3, 2015

Regular session ends with unresolved budget, proposed tuition freeze for Regents universities

Dear Jayhawk for Higher Education:

Lawmakers ended the regular session Thursday and adjourned for spring break. Most will head back to their home districts before returning to Topeka in late April for the wrap-up session. But they didn’t adjourn Thursday without first making significant changes to their still unfinished budget, including changes that would impact higher education in Kansas.

You will recall last week the Senate passed a budget bill that included a $4.7 million annual cut to the Lawrence campus, as well as a reallocation of financial aid between Kansas public and private institution students so that the overwhelming majority of that aid goes to independent colleges. But the plot changed significantly this Wednesday, when the budget conference committee swapped the proposed cut in exchange for a tuition freeze at all Regents universities for the next two years. The committee also scaled back the proposed reallocation of student aid, though the new proposal still means a shift in funds away from students at public institutions.

The substitution of a tuition freeze for cuts was a curious move that presents challenges for KU and the other Regents universities—not only in terms of how we would handle a freeze if passed into law, but also in terms of how we communicate with lawmakers about the proposal between now and the end of the session. We are working with the Board of Regents and the other universities to evaluate the potential effects of a freeze and the extent to which each university is willing to discuss those effects over the coming weeks. (Wichita State, for example, has publicly come out strongly against the proposal.) In the meantime, it’s important for us to help shape the conversation about the proposal along these lines:

Certainly, we are pleased the conference committee reversed the proposed cut to KU, and we appreciate the Legislature’s focus on affordability for Kansas students and families. That said, there are implications for freezing tuition. In many ways, a tuition freeze equals a cut, because it prevents us from even being able to keep up with even the cost of inflation, and it hurts our ability to compete with other universities in states that are investing in higher education.

Additionally, a tuition freeze essentially guarantees a step backward for us, because we will not be able to fund any targeted improvements or innovations or embark on any major initiatives—including those that would grow the state economy and create jobs. Also, there is no guarantee there aren’t additional governor’s allotments coming down the pike. If additional allotments materialize, a tuition freeze would mean we’d have no way to offset them.

The bottom line is, if the Legislature approves a tuition freeze, in order for any major KU projects to happen to benefit Kansans, the state will need to become a financial partner—in the same way it teamed with KU to build our School of Pharmacy, our School of Engineering, and most recently, our proposed new Health Education Building in Kansas City.

Of course, we will continue to do our best to generate additional revenue through the generosity of donors, by winning federal research awards, and by finding efficiencies. But again, freezing tuition without the corollary investments certainly creates serious revenue constraints for public universities.

Now is the time to visit with your elected officials
The Legislature’s spring break is a great time for you to interact with lawmakers in your district. To help you do this, we have posted a list of scheduled legislative forums and events across the state. We have also created a fact sheet on how KU grows the state economy to help you have conversations with your legislators about the work KU does to create a more prosperous Kansas.

As always, I remind you that there are a lot of moving pieces to this legislative session, and we can expect changes between now and the end of the session. We will continue to keep you posted.

Thank you for all you do on behalf of KU.

Rock Chalk!

Kevin J. Corbett, c’88
President, KU Alumni Association