Tuition hike likely

Mai Hoang

Western administrators say they can’t predict what Frankfort is going to do for higher education next year, but they want to upgrade the university’s academics.

A plan laid out last week would take matters into the administrators’ own hands.

President Gary Ransdell proposed increasing tuition by $200, or 11 percent, starting next semester to fund a plan meant to improve academics and deal with enrollment growth.

The Board of Regents would still be able to increase tuition for the 2004-2005 school year beyond the $200, but not by more than 10 percent.

The regents’ executive committee approved the proposal. The entire board will vote on the proposal at its next quarterly meeting on Oct. 31.

The Council on Post-Secondary Education just received notification of Ransdell’s proposal on Monday, said Sandra Woodley, vice president for finance. The CPE monitors all Kentucky public university tuition rates.

Western is the first institution this year that has reported the possibility of a mid-year tuition increase, she said.

Woodley said such an increase is unusual in Kentucky.

She would not comment on the pros and cons of the proposal because she has not yet fully examined it.

“We do understand that all institutions may have a need to increase their tuition revenues,” Woodley said.

The proposed tuition increase would produce $5.8 million in new revenue that would go toward several academic initiatives, including more faculty positions, increased student support programs and renovation of classroom space.

During his presentation on Thursday, Ransdell pointed out that Western’s current tuition is less than most of its benchmark institutions. It is also below the national level.

“It keeps our tuition reasonable,” Ransdell said. “But it has a dramatic impact on quality.”

More than $2 million of the new revenue is designated for faculty. About $1.5 million would go toward filling 30 new full-time faculty positions – 20 of which would be created and the remaining 10 which would come about after the university reduces part-time faculty.

An additional $152,000 will be used to recruit and retain faculty. During the committee meeting, Ransdell cited an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that illustrated several universities that were still hiring faculty despite a struggling economy.

“I want to be in that group attracting faculty because the pool is stronger,” he said. “We’re going to have an opportunity to upgrade the quality of our faculty when most aren’t.”

Several regents voiced support for the proposal but said they hope this was not the only thing the university would be doing to enhance academic quality.

“For the university to be the best they can be, we have to be able to raise funds,” said Regent Cornelius Martin of Bowling Green. “I think now people are willing to pay more. I think we’re selling ourselves short.”

Student Regent John Bradley said after the meeting that tuition increases are not ideal for students, but that he understood the increase was the only way to gain new revenue because the state is unable to provide funds.

“If it wasn’t outlined completely and not going strictly to academics, I would have serious reservations,” Bradley said. “But the case is it goes directly to academic quality. We need to address student-teacher ratios which are increasing and our faculty numbers which are stagnant.”

Faculty Regent Robert Dietle said he was pleased that a large part of the new money would go toward new faculty positions and academic operating budgets.

“I think the faculty response will be positive,” he said.

More than $1.9 million of the new revenue would go toward academic support for students. Such academic support would include the creation of a “Student Success Center” in Downing University Center that would offer mentoring, tutoring, computer labs and work space for students.

That money would also enhance similar centers within Western’s colleges, enhance the university’s honors program and provide more staffing and program support, such as internships, for students.

Some of the $1.9 million would also go toward greater financial support for students. That ranges from a $1,000 increase for graduate assistantships to the creation of need-based and merit scholarships for target counties.

Finally, $1.8 million of the new revenue would be used to update classroom space in both the main campus and South Campus. Renovations include the purchase of more instruction equipment, the renovation of campus classrooms and additional parking and food services at South Campus.

Ransdell said increasing tuition would buy more time until the state legislature would be in a position to give Western greater appropriations.

Although the state may not provide much funding in the next budget year, Western needs to maintain its undergraduate enrollment to put itself forward for more funding in the next budget cycle, he said.

“I’m confident that state appropriations in the future will help us, and we can balance state appropriations with tuition to achieve national prominence,” he said.

Reach Mai Hoang at [email protected]