The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 17, 2012

PSU seeking 6.15 percent increase in tuition rates

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Pittsburg State University has submitted a proposal to the Kansas Board of Regents to increase tuition for the 2012-13 academic year by 6.15 percent.

If the request is approved at the regents’ June meeting, an undergraduate paying in-state rates will lay out $2,193, or about $128 more, in tuition this fall.

In a presentation this spring to faculty and staff members, PSU President Steve Scott said unfunded expenses for fiscal 2013 would be salary commitments; health insurance premiums, expected to rise 12 percent in the coming year; emerging programs; and utilities, which Westar Energy has indicated will rise.

Scott said that while enrollment grew 9.8 percent from 2005 to 2011, state support during that time decreased from 70 percent of the school’s funding to 52 percent.

“State support has continued to decline in proportion with what it costs to educate a student,” said Scott, who noted that the Consumer Price Index and the Higher Education Price Index indicate state allocations have not stayed up with the basic rate of inflation.

Scott told the regents this week that the additional revenue would be spent on health insurance premiums for faculty and staff, rising utilities costs, faculty promotions, strategic initiatives, sustainability and recycling, operating expenses, and a modest salary increase for unclassified employees.

Student Chris Ward, who carries a full load as a double major in biology and chemistry, said he can see the proposed increase from two perspectives.

“One, there are a few things around campus that do need tending to, but I think that if the tuition is increased, it should be modest,” he said. “Not all students can afford to deal with paying more.”

Mark Johnson, an officer in the faculty senate, said the average faculty member on campus has not had a raise in three years; the coming year will mark the fourth.

“Salary does concern me,” he said. “The big problem with our salary situation is morale of faculty.”

Faculty members have received small incremental raises in recent years for insurance premiums, which Johnson said was akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul.

To offset rising costs, tuition has increased since 2005 from 30 percent to 48 percent of the university’s budget.

Ward, who just completed his sophomore term, depends on a combination of financial aid and scholarships for tuition. His concern, he said, is that another tuition increase might negatively affect enrollment.

“It might have the opposite effect,” he said. “It might deter students from coming here.”

But Scott said that historically, the university has been conservative in its approach to raising tuition, and he believes that is again the case with the proposed increase.

“The Tuition Committee (composed of students, faculty, staff, administrators and residents) spent months analyzing the university’s needs, the expected support from the state, and tuition at other universities in the region and across the U.S. before coming up with a recommendation,” Scott said.

Scott said that if the proposed tuition increase is approved, PSU will remain one of the most affordable universities in the region. Last year, PSU had the lowest tuition of its national peers and was fifth from the bottom among the universities in the MIAA.

Student Pamela Thompson said she believes she is “paying plenty now” and was surprised to learn of the proposed increase.

“I also feel that with the economy the way it is, it seems that the numbers are up for college attendance, and I would hope that the college would be doing fine. I wish they would make college more available and affordable for all,” said Thompson, a nontraditional student who is working on an elementary education degree.

University officials have reported reducing costs and maximizing resources in several areas, including consolidating academic departments, eliminating positions, implementing the state’s voluntary retirement incentive program and reducing energy consumption.

Scott said the university has led efforts to make tuition more affordable for out-of-state students by implementing the Gorilla Advantage program in 2010 and has seen enrollment increase as a result.

Expansion requested

IN ADDITION TO REQUESTING increased tuition rates, PSU requested an expansion of the Gorilla Advantage in-state tuition plan to Clay and Platte counties in Missouri. PSU also asked for permission to create a separate plan that offers tuition at 150 percent of in-state rates to qualified students in Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas.