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Uncertainty and financial challenges looming, CPE holds back on statewide tuition limits for next year


Amid the uncertainty and financial challenges of COVID-19, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education voted Friday to forgo a statewide cap on tuition next year for in-state, undergraduate students at public colleges and universities.

The decision provides universities, along with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, maximum flexibility to respond to student needs and shore up institutional programs as the crisis creates economic upheaval across the globe.

Final tuition rates and fees are still subject to Council approval, and institutions will return in June to justify any increases for the 2020-21 academic year. Some campuses have already pledged to not raise tuition at all, while others say they are eyeing an increase of around 2 percent.

Council member Kristi Nelson said Friday that forgoing a statewide limit will allow the Council to conduct a deeper review of each campus’ needs and make a more informed decision about rates.

“If we entrust these universities to manage through a pandemic, we can entrust them to take the appropriate action on their tuition setting,” she said. “These circumstances have created an extraordinary situation.”

Aaron Thompson

CPE President Dr. Aaron Thompson said he and Council staff have remained in constant contact with campuses since the outbreak began, and campuses appreciate the need to keep tuition as low as possible as they cope with unprecedented challenges, including layoffs and massive budget shortfalls.

“We are facing uncertainty at every level, and the Council is relying on the expertise of each campus to find balanced solutions,” Thompson said. “All of our campuses have expressed a commitment to prioritize students and families as they work through these dire financial challenges.”

The federal CARES Act will provide at least $109 million in emergency relief to Kentucky’s public institutions, with half earmarked for direct grants to students.

However, the state’s 2020-21 budget does not provide any additional general fund revenue for higher education in the coming fiscal year. Officials also estimate that fixed and unavoidable costs on Kentucky’s public campuses will rise by $79.9 million over the next year, not including costs related to COVID-19.

According to CPE estimates, a tuition increase of 2 percent at all the campuses would generate up to $32.7 million – about 41 percent of non-COVID-19 related fixed costs.

Campus presidents from the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville signaled Friday that they were considering increases close to that amount. If approved, it would raise tuition by $123 per semester at UK and $117 per semester at UofL.

An increase of $5 per credit hour for resident students at KCTCS, which was also discussed Friday, would equal a maximum 2.7 percent increase overall.

Image by Mai Ly Degnan/NPR

When institutions submit in-state, undergraduate rates for Council approval in June, they will also submit market competitive tuition and fee rates for graduate and online courses, as well as tuition and fee rates for out-of-state students that comply with Council policy and approved MOUs.

In other action, the Council approved Memorandum of Understandings between the Council and the following universities regarding nonresident student tuition: Eastern Kentucky University, Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University, University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University.

In other business, the Council approved 10 academic programs, including:

• Master of Social Work, Eastern Kentucky University.

• Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity at Northern Kentucky University.

For the University of Kentucky:

• Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering.

• Master of Science in computer engineering.

• Ph.D. in computer engineering.

• Master of Science in teacher preparation program in visual impairments.

• Master of Arts in orientation and mobility.

• Bachelor of Science in product design.

• Master of Science in supply chain engineering.

• Master of Science in supply chain management.

In other board actions, the Council:

• Authorized a $1.5 million agency fund interim capital project at Western Kentucky University to reconfigure classrooms in their Health Sciences Complex.

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•Approved a modification for President Aaron Thompson’s contract, removing the incentive compensation provisions and increasing his base annual salary to $340,000. This modification will bring Thompson’s base annual salary to the level of total compensation earned this year when considering his current base annual salary and incentive compensation earned.

• Approved the Council and committee meeting schedule for the 2020-21 year.

• Amended 13 KAR 1:050, dealing with licensed out-of-state colleges’ eligibility for Kentucky Tuition Grant, and authorized staff to file the proposed administrative regulation and obtain adoption by the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee and the Interim Joint Committee on Education.

• Issued resolutions for outgoing Council member Brandon Wilson and Skills U Adult Education’s Reecie Stagnolia who retired.

The Council heard reports on the 2020 Progress Report, Committee on Equal Opportunities, preliminary timeline for the next statewide strategic agenda, a Strategic Initiatives Fund, and from President Thompson and Interim Kentucky Education Commissioner Kevin Brown. Campus Good News reports were also available.

The next meeting of the Council will be June 18-19.

Meeting materials are available at http://cpe.ky.gov/aboutus/records/index.html.

From Council on Postsecondary Education


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