Committee examines rising cost of college education


FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Tuition, fees and other costs at Kentucky’s eight public universities was the topic of discussion at the General Assembly’s Program Review and investigations Committee on Thursday.

The committee staff presented a 93-page report with six major conclusions:

--Since the Council of Postsecondary Education established ceilings for tuition increases after the 2008-2009 school year, the average annual increase in tuition and fees has been 4.6 percent.  Between 2002 and 2008, the average rise was 11.4 percent.

--The total cost of attendance in 2015 for in-state students, not taking financial aid into account, ranges from a low of $19,900 at Kentucky State University, to more than $25,000 at both the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville.  The other public universities were in the $20,000 to $21,000 range.  The study found those costs less than surrounding states and similar to schools in other southern states.

--For the 2015 academic year, the net cost, which includes grants and scholarships, ranged from $8,206 at KSU, to $16,673 at UK.  Since 2007, and adjusted for inflation, the net cost rose 17 percent at Murray State University, around 20 percent at UK and Eastern Kentucky University, nearly 30 percent at U of L, more than 40 percent at Morehead State University, with decreases at KSU, Northern Kentucky University and Western Kentucky University.   

--In 2015, the average net price at UK and U of L was more than 35 percent of Kentucky median household income, more than 25% at Eastern and Morehead, more than 20 percent at Murray, Northern and Western, and 18 percent at KSU.  Since 2007, the percent of median household income rose 0.1 percent at Northern and Western, 6.8 percent or more at UK, U of L and Morehead, and dropped over two percent at KSU.

--Around 93 percent of college students had some kind of financial aid in 2015. Sixty-eight percent received state aid, a small rise since 2000.  Over that 15-year period, those receiving a federal grant rose from 29 to 44 percent, institutional grant aid increased from 31 to 59 percent, and the percentage awarded a loan jumped from 33 to 60 percent.

--Kentucky’s public university graduates had around the same student loan debt as graduates in other states, although the amount increased fifty percent between 2008 and 2015, to a median of $23,822.  The average student had an 11 percent three-year cohort default rate, two percent more than the other states.

Dr. Aaron Thompson, the new president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, responded to the report, and what can be done to address the issue of affordability.

“Since early 2000, the responsibility for college cists has shifted from the state to our students and families.  No doubt about it.  That is something I think we have to have some comprehensive conversations around.”

Thompson admitted the issue of rising student debt is very problematic. 

“For those students who graduate, they are very successful in seeing that debt as an investment.  When they don’t graduate, I think it’s an issue that we have to start talking about, and it’s on our backs.”

He also addressed cuts in funding to higher education by the state.  “Our argument is fairly simple: higher education is the is a good key to good workforce and a good key for economic development.  Somehow, we have to get better in trying to address that.”

One other factor is the higher education pension plan.  “If we don’t take care of it this year,” Aaron said, “we’re going to increase our Kentucky Employee Retirement System contribution about 70 percent.  That’s another blow to affordability.”

Some of Thompson’s solution include:

--Support and expand state student aid programs, including the new Work Ready Scholarship Program

--Encourage early college going, by continued support of dual credit, AP and other programs

--Continue to promote and support career pathways into high-demand industries such as healthcare, manufacturing and IT

--Manage tuition and fee growth

--Encourage and facilitate increased transfer opportunities between the KCTCS system and universities

--Support and promote strategies to ensure more students complete the programs they start

--Implement strategies that encourage students to lessen the time it takes to earn degrees.

--Continue to implement cost saving and efficiency measures



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