Schools submit tuition proposals to higher education panel

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) _ As Kentucky universities’ deadline for submitting proposed tuition spikes came Friday, a small group of students gathered outside the headquarters of the state’s council over higher education.

Their turnout, while small perhaps because of finals week, did not reflect the actual outrage students are experiencing over the prospect of a nearly 10 percent increase in their tuition next school year, one student said.

“Quite the contrary,” said Drew Tucker, a student at the University of Louisville. “It shows that students just can’t afford to be out here.”

Kentucky’s public universities had until Friday to give the state’s Council for Postsecondary Education their proposed tuition rates for the fall semester. It’s up to the council to decide on the tuition proposals on May 9, following public hearings next week.

So far, universities across Kentucky have proposed tuition increases from 6 up to 9.68 percent.

State government is currently facing a $900 million projected revenue shortfall over the next two years. The General Assembly earlier this month approved a two-year $19 billion state spending plan that included 3 percent funding cuts for public universities.

Officials at Murray State University have approved a 6 percent tuition hike, while Morehead State University is looking at an increase based on students’ number of credit hours. Eastern Kentucky University and Kentucky State University have proposed 8 percent spikes.

Meanwhile, the University of Kentucky, Western Kentucky University and the University of Louisville have each proposed raising tuition by 9 percent and Northern Kentucky University wants a 9.68 percent boost.

Tucker was part of a contingent of University of Louisville students who urged the council to turn down the proposed increases.

“They never put their foot down, they never stand up to the state,” Tucker said of school officials. “They just push the burden on us.”

Friday’s protest comes with the council’s leadership at the center of a controversy.

Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, opposes the recent hiring of Brad Cowgill as its permanent president. Cowgill was former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s state budget director before becoming the council’s interim president in September.

Beshear on Thursday demanded the council begin a new national search and exclude Cowgill from consideration. The move followed a nonbinding legal opinion by Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, that the council had violated state law by not conducting a national search before picking Cowgill as the permanent president.

Cowgill has indicated the council wants a “conservative approach” toward boosting tuition.

Jim Applegate, the council’s vice president for academic affairs, said the panel would review the schools’ proposals and listen to their reasoning. Applegate said the council was concerned about keeping college affordable for students.

“At one point, Kentucky was one of the most affordable states in the union for higher education,” Applegate said. “I think what we’re seeing now is we’re beginning to bump up against the affordability ceiling.”

Emily Nordling, a 19-year-old U of L sophomore, said she’s worried about being able to pay off thousands of dollars in student loans after graduation.

“I want to be a teacher, and this is so disheartening to think that I’m going to not even be able to pay off my student debt while helping other students,” Nordling said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.