Long-term tuition plan is a first for Western

Gary Ransdell

At tomorrow’s Board of Regents meeting, the board will discuss a significant concept which breaks new ground in Kentucky higher education with regard to tuition scheduling and investments in academic quality.

There are several factors which prompted this action at this point in time. The Board of Regents last fall challenged me to put in motion a long-range plan to ensure the highest possible quality in the Western experience and to stabilize a long-term revenue strategy to ensure that quality.

First, however, we had to work through the spring 2004 $5.6 million state budget cut and wait until the end of the 2004 legislative session to see what the state will do for higher education in the 04-06 state biennial budget. The die is now cast. We have achieved our budget cut without doing significant harm to our academic priorities, and we know that the state, if a budget is passed, will be providing little help for higher education operating budgets for the next two years.

Given the board’s long-term challenge, therefore, we will be discussing with the campus this afternoon and with the board tomorrow a four-year tuition plan which includes a second phase of academic quality enhancements (following an initial phase with an increase in spring 2004 tuition) and a six-year campus construction program.

Specifically, I will ask the board to set tuition at the following intervals through 2008: fall 2004 – $2,118; spring 2005 – $2,274; fall 2005 -$2,496; spring 2006–$2,691; fall 2006 and spring 2007 – $2,820; and fall 2007 and spring 2008 – $2,961. These are in-state, undergraduate rates. Non-resident, graduate and distance learning rates will be appropriately correlated as part of tomorrow’s board action.

This schedule allows fall rates to be set in each year of the 2004-06 biennium to address campus budget needs (salaries, benefits, utilities, infrastructure, etc.). The spring rates are set in each year of the 2004-06 biennium to address campus quality enhancements – academic priorities in spring 2005 and capital needs in spring 2006.

Rates in both years of the 2004-06 biennium are set to offset the absence of state funding increases. No new state funding will be available in 2004-05 and only $1 million in new state funding is projected for Western in 2005-06.

The tuition increase schedule for 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 is reduced to a pre-1994 percentage increase level of 5 percent. The commitment to return to normal percentage increases in tuition is made in good faith that the state will resume a level of funding sufficient to allow Western to raise tuition in both years of the 2006-08 biennium by 5 percent or less.

This schedule allows each prospective student, current students and parents to know what a Western education will cost for the next four years. This is an unprecedented action on the part of a campus governing board. No other campus in Kentucky (or elsewhere that I know of) is setting tuition beyond the next year. I, however, think you need to know what to expect for the next four years.

This schedule also allows Western to continue its pursuit of high academic quality and a campus transformation mandated by the Board of Regents in 1997 and outlined in our ongoing campus strategic plan. In total, we will have invested this year and next year, nearly $11 million recurring dollars in academic quality enhancements.

With this schedule, Western can sustain a reasonable rate of progress until state funding is resumed. If state funding is not resumed in the 2006-08 biennium, then the board may be forced to revisit tuition for that two-year period. The absence of such a revenue schedule for the next two years (2004-2006) would bring campus progress to a halt.

Segmenting this tuition schedule for the 2004-06 biennium achieved four strategic objectives:

* It makes the combined annual increase for both years 17.5 percent which is within the range of increases at the public universities in Kentucky for next year. Recent action by campus governing boards has set tuition increases for next year for Eastern Kentucky University at 19 percent, Northern Kentucky University at 16.7 percent, University of Kentucky at 16 percent, Morehead State University at 14 percent and the University of Louisville at 13 percent.

* It defers a portion of the cost until the spring semester each year, and it allows for financial aid predictability to include all cost increases each year.

* It segments the tuition revenue in a clear manner conducive to distinctly different uses.

* It allows Western to make important quality upgrades in a climate of reduced state funding, especially when most campuses are not making such investments in academic quality and physical plant.

A second recommendation to the board tomorrow will allow any new student entering in the fall of 2004 to make one payment equal to the total of the four-year tuition schedule which equals $21,141, thereby locking in those rates through the 2007-08 academic year, regardless of any future action which may be dictated by further state budget cuts or state funding indifference. In order to qualify for this “one check to cover four years of education” policy, the total must be paid by the registration date for spring 2005 classes.

At this afternoon’s forum, I will present these recommendations in considerably greater detail and outline other pertinent data which puts this action in accurate perspective.

The most important perspective which we all must sustain, however, is that Western will not be deterred in pursuing academic quality and an improved quality of campus life. We will remain competitive with market place pricing, and we will continue to ensure high value for a reasonable cost.

I hope to see as many of you as possible this afternoon in the Grise Hall Auditorium at 3 p.m. for faculty and staff and at 4 p.m. for students.

Gary Ransdell is Western’s president.

This commentary does not reflect the views of the Herald.