Regents will look at tuition

Mai Hoang

The amount of money students will have to budget for their education next year is still unknown, even as higher education officials continue to figure out the state’s budget picture.

With such uncertainties, Western has reported to the Council on Post-Secondary Education that it could increase tuition anywhere from 10 to 20 percent in the next two school years.

Western is not bound to increase within those numbers, said Sandra Woodley, CPE vice president for finance.

Provost Barbara Burch said rates aren’t likely to be set soon because of state budget uncertainties. Typically, Western sets its rates at the beginning of one school year for the next school year.

“If the state was to fund all our unfunded growth, then we wouldn’t have to think about it,” Burch said.

But tuition rates will be one thing that will be discussed to help meet the needs of unfunded enrollment growth, Burch said.

Woodley said most public universities are waiting for a clear state budget outlook before they make any definite decisions on tuition rates.

“It’s a much more difficult decision when you don’t know how much general fund support you’re going to get,” Woodley said.

Like Western, those institutions have also reported a percentage range for a potential tuition increase rather than actual amounts for the next school year.

While individual universities are responsible for determining tuition rates, the CPE monitor rates can intervene when needed.

Woodley said that’s a step they have never had to make since the CPE handed over control of tuition increases to the institutions.

“With a budget crunch that’s going on and the fact that we’re already a low-tuition state, all the tuition increases seem reasonable,” she said.

Higher education officials yesterday had a peek at how things will turn out with the 2004 fiscal year budget.

The Forecasting Consensus Group reported a state budget revenue projection of $6.83 billion, a $17.5 million increase from its August prediction.

But that $17.5 million only makes a small dent in the $262.4 million shortfall expected in the 2004 fiscal year.

Regardless, this month’s estimate is less than state budget director Mary Lassiter’s prediction of $274 million.

This year’s budget shortfall may be made up by one-time funds obtained by the state that total $132 million, said Perry Nutt, a staff economist for the Legislative Research Council. Those funds include federal money from President George W. Bush’s tax relief package, money state agencies didn’t spend and reserve funds.

Woodley said that even with more optimistic revenue projections, it doesn’t provide an adequate picture of what kind of budget higher education institutions will have to deal with.

In most cases, universities will have to meet their needs by either boosting revenue through tuition increases or by cutting operating costs, Woodley said.

Faculty Regent Robert Dietle said that because the university is unlikely to get to any new money from the state, it will need to increase tuition despite other revenue such as private funds.

“$102 million doesn’t cover everything,” Dietle said. “The state legislature seems to have this bizarre idea that we can take more students, provide more service and do more economic development with less money. I got news for them – that’s not the way it’s going to work.”

President Gary Ransdell said he is not ready to discuss tuition rates, especially without knowing who is going to win November’s gubernatorial election.

“There’s just no way to predict what direction the state’s going to go in the next few months,” he said. “Consequently, there’s no way of knowing where we’ll be going next fall.”

Reach Mai Hoang at [email protected]