GOP leader wants to freeze university tuition in Kentucky

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The leader of the state Senate's powerful Republican Caucus wants to freeze tuition and fees at state colleges and universities, saying education officials have used state budget cuts as an excuse to recklessly raise the cost of a college degree in Kentucky.

State Sen. Dan Seum of Louisville filed a bill on Tuesday that would prohibit state colleges and universities from increasing tuition or fees for the next four years. After that, any tuition or fee increase would have to be approved by the state legislature, an unlikely event given the politics surrounding college finances.

Colleges and universities have had to endure steep budget cuts during the Great Recession, when Kentucky was plagued by multimillion-dollar deficits that forced lawmakers to make hard choices. Since 2008, the state legislature has slashed higher-education funding by 16 percent, or $173.5 million. But during that same time period, colleges and universities have increased tuition to generate an extra $588.6 million that stays with the schools.

"It borders on criminal what these universities have done to these kids on tuition," Seum said. "I'm still waiting for any university president to tell me the mission of the school is to graduate these kids in a timely fashion."

Sue Patrick, spokeswoman for the Council on Postsecondary Education, said looking at tuition and fee revenue "does not provide a complete picture" because it does not account for the financial aid offered by the colleges and state and federal governments. On a per-student basis adjusted for inflation, state funding has dropped by $2,690 per student since 2008, while tuition and fee revenue have increased by $2,259 per student, Patrick said. That's a reduction of $431 per student, or a $70 million loss for Kentucky's higher education system.

Seum also criticized the University of Louisville, saying the university raised tuition 10 percent in 2010 to generate an extra $55 million to cover a $9 million state budget cut. But University of Louisville spokesman John Karman said school raised tuition 6 percent, not 10 percent. The increase generated an extra $7.8 million, not $55 million, Karman said.

"We understand the financial burden that tuition can impose on students and their families, and we work hard every day to provide our students with the best education possible at the lowest tuition cost possible," Karman said.

The Council on Postsecondary Education, a 15-member group appointed by the governor, must approve all tuition and fee increases at state colleges and universities. The state legislature set it up that way with the goal of removing politics from determining a reasonable tuition rate.

"The (Council on Postsecondary Education) ... has failed to do their job," Senate Republican President Robert Stivers said. "Part of the problem is legislators did end-runs around them. But I think we really need to figure out what the purpose of the (council) ... really is."

Patrick, the council's spokeswoman, said she would not comment on the bill until she has had a chance to read it. The bill was not available to view on the state legislature's website as of Tuesday afternoon.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the council has done a "fairly good job" of capping tuition increases.

"I think everybody understands they have to make up revenue somewhere if they are going to continue to move forward," Stumbo said.


This story has been corrected to reflect that the higher education budget has been cut by 16 percent, or $173.5 million, since 2008, not 15 percent, or $165 million.

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