Board of Regents will vote on tuition increases to balance $27 million shortfall

Nicole Ziege

The WKU Board of Regents will vote this Friday on whether to increase tuition rates and online course fees for full-time students as a means to balance a $27 million shortfall. They will also vote to give merit-based raises for full-time employee salaries.

“Given the magnitude of the total reduction target and development of new budget model, it is not feasible to achieve the full reduction target by July 1,” documents provided by the Board of Regents read. “The input of new provost and deans will be integral to shaping priorities to achieve a balanced budget.”

The Board of Regents finance committee met on May 23 and approved adding increases to tuition rates and online course fees for full-time students and giving merit-based raises for full-time employee salaries as recommendations to balance the budget.

“It’s not just about revenue and balancing the budget,” President Timothy Caboni said during the finance committee meeting. “It’s also about market demand and making sure we are making college accessible and affordable.”

According to documents provided by the Board of Regents, significant changes to the 18-19 operating budget include a 4 percent tuition increase for the full academic year. This increase would set the in-state tuition rate, currently $5,101, at $5,301 per semester.

At the board’s meeting on May 11, the regents asked the administration to consider a 4 percent tuition increase rather than the 3 percent Caboni had initially recommended.

Out-of-state undergraduate students would face an increase in their tuition rates of at least 3 percent. The out-of-state rate, currently $12,756, would rise to $13,248 per semester. For international students, tuition would increase from $13,080 a semester to $13,572.

The tuition increases would generate more than $5.5 million.

A 4 percent tuition increase for 2018-19 means that the maximum increase for 2019-20 would be 2 percent, under guidelines set by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education for the coming two years.

The new tuition revenue would be used to fund pay raises for WKU faculty and staff, according to the Board of Regents documents.

WKU had a salary increase of 4 percent in 2008, but increases since then have been minimal or nonexistent, according to documents provided to the finance committee, leaving employee pay lagging benchmark institutions and the private sector.

Creating a 4 percent salary-increase pool would cost WKU about $5.1 million annually. If approved, merit increases would be determined in the fall and raises would take effect Jan. 1, 2019, according to the Board of Regents documents.

“Obviously, the 4 percent salary pool will be well-received on this campus,” Ann Mead said during the previous finance committee meeting, noting the minimal salary increases for faculty and staff at WKU since 2008. Mead is the senior vice president for finance and administration.

The board will vote on whether to increase online course fees for full-time students from $100 to $150, as part of the 18-19 budget. This increase was suggested during the previous Board of Regents meeting.

WKU’s online course fee increased to $100 per credit hour for full-time students in 2017. Eastern Kentucky University charges $409 per credit hour, and the University of Louisville charges $497 per credit hour for online courses for full-time students, but the online fees at other public universities in Kentucky range from $10 per credit hour to $65 per credit hour, according to finance committee documents.

About 4,300 full-time students at WKU paid the online fee, or one-third of the full-time undergraduate population last fall. About 41 required or restricted elective courses were only provided online last fall.

There will be a 6.25 percent reduction to the 2019 fiscal year state general fund, which will result in a $4.6 million loss. Included in that loss is a $75,100 decrease in funding for theCarol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science.

The roughly $4.6 million loss to the budget is a result of an enrollment decline in the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to the Board of Regents documents. An additional tuition loss of $6 million is anticipated for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

“The biggest drivers in the projected enrollment decline are international students (undergraduate and graduate), part-time resident graduate students and full-time resident undergraduate students,” according to the documents.

In the budget, there will be a loss of about $3.4 million, or 2 percent, in expected tuition rates and fees from the previous year. The decline will total about 525 students, excluding dual credit students and practice-based doctoral programs, according to the documents.

Student financial assistance is also expected to increase by $2.2 million, or 6 percent.

If the Board of Regents approves the 18-19 operating budget during the special meeting on Friday, June 22, then the changes will go into effect in fall 2018.

Editor’s Note: A previous sentence in the story said, “significant changes to the 18-19 operating budget include a 4 percent tuition increase in the fall and spring semesters.” To clarify, the 4 percent tuition increase would take effect for the full academic year. There would not be two separate tuition increases for the fall semester and then the spring semester. The article has been corrected. The Herald regrets the error.

Nicole Ziege can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow Nicole Ziege on Twitter at @NicoleZiege.