Ransdell speaks on tuition increase at University Senate

Cameron Koch

President Gary Ransdell spoke frankly about a faculty resolution asking for more financial support for postsecondary education – he doesn’t approve.

“I really don’t want us to be the one university that’s bitching on paper,” Ransdell said, drawing laughter from the filled Faculty House during the University Senate meeting on Thursday.

The resolution, created by the senate and titled “Resolution of the Faculty Senate in Defense of Public Access to Affordable Higher Education,” calls upon the Kentucky legislature and Gov. Steve Beshear to “exhibit political courage” and make funding decisions that will ease the burden of rising tuition costs off students.

The proposed resolution, and Ransdell’s disapproval, comes just as the university begins to piece together its budget for fiscal year 2013, including a 5 percent tuition increase.

Much of Ransdell’s time was spent painting a grim picture for postsecondary education funding. Since 2008, just as the recession hit, Ransdell showed how WKU and all public universities took severe state budget cuts. Students have become increasingly responsible for paying for their own education, and universities have become increasingly reliant on tuition and fees to stay afloat.

Of WKU’s $193 million operating budget, 44.5 percent, or roughly $87 million, comes from student tuition and fees.

The tuition increase would bring in an estimated $6.5 million, the majority of which would go toward meeting financial aids need to the tune of $2.5 million and a 2 percent faculty-wide salary increase totaling $2.1 million.

The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, which sets a maximum percentage that tuition can be raised, and WKU’s Board of Regents must approve all tuition increases.

“We have no choice (but to raise tuition 5 percent), and we may not be successful,” Ransdell said. “If we don’t get 5 percent, we still have to pay for these things.”

Ransdell said if CPE sets the maximum limit above 5 percent, WKU will not seek to raise tuition higher than five.

Both bodies will meet at the end of April to decide on tuition.

Faculty Regent Patricia Minter said the tuition increase is a tough pill to swallow.

“I think the faculty opinion in general, I haven’t heard anybody say anything other than, ‘Yes, it’s regretful, but yes absolutely, we have to have the five percent,'” Minter said.

A stable enrollment plays a key role in establishing the university budget. More students means more money and an unexpected drop in enrollment could have a devastating effect.

Ransdell said current enrollment is down 287 students compared to the same time last year.

“We are dependent on our students,” he said. “Two hundred eighty-seven students is a million-dollar factor for us.”

When even a handful of fewer students one year to the next could cause financial problems, student retention takes on increased importance.

Robert Dietle, head of the history department, said during the meeting the university could be doing much more to entice the average student who isn’t receiving scholarships from the school to finish with their degree.

“We do a great job of telling students who we pay to come here…that we love them and want them here,” Dietle said. “But I don’t think we are doing such a great job of helping students who pay us… I think we need to get the message out we value a broad range of students, who fill most of our classrooms.”

Ransdell said annoying the legislature to provide more postsecondary education funding could hurt WKU rather than help. There is no money to spare in order to ease the financial pains of students.

State budgets are approved and put in place every two years. If an increase in state funding is coming to postsecondary education, it won’t be until 2014.

“If more state funding does occur, certainly there will be great pressure to decrease tuition increases, and I would be all for that,” Ransdell said. “I’m not for it until that occurs. Best case scenario might be we will see an increase of 2 or 3 percent, and tuition increases would decline to 2 or 3 percent.”

Ransdell said he would be more likely to support the faculty resolution if it were sent next spring when the legislature and Beshear put together the state budget for the next two years.

“I’d support a thoughtful resolution, well timed, and with the support of the higher education community,” Ransdell said. “I’d prefer not to put a target on WKU.”