The governing body of Western Kentucky University made a $388,000,000 decision on Friday.
The Board of Regents approved a budget that will increase tuition and fees by 4% for the next academic year. The increase will fund four percent raises for faculty and staff, their first substantial salary increase in a decade.
Student Regent Stephen Mayer cast the lone dissenting vote on the budget, citing the financial hardship that a tuition hike would place on his peers. Tuition would rise about $200 per semester and online course fees would jump by $50 per credit hour. Mayer said constant tuition hikes in recent years are causing students to rethink where they start their postsecondary education.
"A lot of people said this is going to cause me to leave Western, go to community college for my gen eds and come back to Western to complete my degree because it's a lot cheaper to go to community college," Mayer said.
WKU has struggled with retention in recent years and expects to be down more than 500 students in the fall. The new budget that takes effect July 1 includes a 6.25% cut in state funding. WKU has trimmed $27 million from its budget through layoffs, reorganizations, and the elimination of some programs.
Tuition and fees make up 70 percent WKU’s $388,419,000 budget, while state funding accounts for only 19 percent of the spending plan. Regent John Ridley expressed frustration that the General Assembly didn’t fund any capital projects at WKU and saddled universities with rising pension costs.
"I don't see how anyone can budget a business and not know what's on the horizon or cannot plan," Ridley said. "Now, we have a mystery as to whether we're going to have a few million dollars or several millions of dollars in pension liabilities. We all have a responsibility to contact our legislators and say, 'You need to wrap this up.'"
Lawmakers hastily passed a pension reform bill during this year’s legislative session that would have resulted in $7.5 million in additional pension costs for WKU in the new budget. The bill gave universities a one-year reprieve on the payments. However, that pension bill was ruled unconstitutional on Thursday by a Franklin County Circuit Court judge, a decision that creates even more uncertainty for Kentucky’s public colleges and universities.