PITTSBURG — Pending approval from the Kansas Board of Regents, for the first time in memory, students at Pittsburg State University will be paying a higher portion of the cost of their education than the state of Kansas.
Pittsburg State University presented a proposal to the board of regents Wednesday that increases tuition $128 a semester for full-time undergraduate students paying in-state rates, beginning this fall.
“This is not a plan we bring forward lightly,” said PSU President Steve Scott in a release. “It strikes a balance between our students’ need for high quality academics and the continued instability of state funding.”
Scott said in a phone interview Thursday that, if the regents approve the increase students will pay 51.49 percent of the cost of their degree. Scott said at one point the percentage was 75-25.
“We’ve been on this path for some time,” he said. “Many of our alums had their degrees heavily subsidized.”
Scott said that while several factors played into the proposed rate increase, including faculty promotions, and a changing enrollment mix, it was declining state support that caused the university the biggest budgetary challenge.
In March, Pittsburg State experienced a $1.1 million cut due to state tax receipts falling below projections. On Wednesday, the governor announced additional cuts for FY 2017. For Pittsburg State, that amounts to just over $1 million.
“It makes it extremely difficult to budget for the future,” Scott said in a release.
However, the cut could have been much higher.
Senator Jake LaTurner offered a proviso on the latest budget that was signed into law yesterday. The proviso requires that allotments to regent institutions be made according to their entire budget, not just the state portion. PSU received an allotment (cut) yesterday of 2.8 percent instead of 4 percent because of LaTurner's proviso. In fact, each university in the state saved dollars except the two biggest — Kansas University and Kansas State University
"Larger institutions are able to absorb allotments easier than smaller ones." he said. "Pittsburg State University is vital to the success of Southeast Kansas and I will continue to do everything possible to keep PSU strong and tuition affordable for working families."
Scott said without the proviso, which was strongly opposed by K-State and KU, the univierstiy would have lost an additional $420,000 from state aid.
Thursday Scott said the increase may be higher than the $128 per semester requested Wednesday.
“They may be adjusted higher when they get to the June meeting,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the institutions revise theirs up.”
Scott said PSU may be forced to do so as well.
Even with the increase, Pittsburg State’s tuition rates are among the lowest in the region and in the MIAA. When compared to five similar U.S. universities that are considered peers, PSU’s 2016 tuition and fees are the lowest.
Last fall, full-time undergraduate students paying in-state rates paid $2,557 in tuition each semester. The proposal submitted Wednesday would bring that to $2,685, which is an increase of 5 percent over the previous year. Pittsburg State is one of the only universities in the state to offer full-time students a flat-rate tuition program, which keeps the rate the same regardless of the number of hours they take.
Even though Pittsburg State’s tuition rates remain among the lowest in the region and the MIAA, Scott emphasized the pressure the state’s uncertain financial future is placing upon the university.
“Neighboring states are increasing their investment in higher education which places us in a difficult competitive position,” Scott said in the release. “Higher education remains the best economic investment Kansas can make. We will continue to actively advocate on behalf of our students in order to help our legislators understand the important role the regents’ system plays in the economic future of our state.”
The university is continuing to move forward despite financial challenges, Scott said, citing several recent enhancements including the admission of the inaugural cohort into the university’s first doctoral program in nursing, the completion of an expanded student union and the university’s hosting of the NCAA Division II National Indoor Track and Field Championships.
“Pittsburg State University’s proactive approach to planning has placed it in a great position,” said Scott. “We have a clear pathway to prominence. The state’s continued cuts will make this a challenging year, but we will move forward.”
The second and final reading of the tuition proposal for all of the regents universities will be at the board’s regular monthly meeting in June.
— Patrick Richardson is the managing editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. He can be emailed at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @PittEditor.