SB 75 would address high cost of tuition

College-aged students and their parents alarmed at the high cost of tuition have reason to be hopeful for some relief if State Senator Dan Seum’s bill is passed by this year’s General Assembly. SB 75 would require the Council on Post-secondary Education (CPE) to freeze tuition rates at the 2015-16 level for the next four years and would require rate increases following the 2019-20 academic year to be determined in consultation with the General Assembly.

CPE responded to Sen. Seum’s bill by noting that the recent amount of tuition increases it authorized was actually reduced by 57%. In other words, tuition continued to increase but the total amount of those increases was limited by CPE.

College presidents, meanwhile, argue they needed to request increases in tuition to offset their losses resulting from recent General Fund cuts. But Sen. Seum says that argument doesn’t wash. He points out that from FY08 to FY16 the General Fund allocation to public universities was decreased approximately 15% or $165 million. At the same time, tuition and fees increased approximately 55% or $582 million.

And, of course, increases in tuition result in increases of student debt.

According to the Institute for College Access & Success, the average student debt rose 56% between 2004 and 2014. That was more than double the rate of inflation (25%) over that same period of time. Kentucky’s Class of 2014 ranked fourth highest nationally in average college debt level increases since 2004 with an 82% increase (from $14,250 to $25,939).

“Why is the tuition rate rising well above the inflation rate?” Sen. Seum asks. “If universities wanted to be fair about it, all they would need to do to offset (current proposed cuts by Governor Bevin) would be to increase tuition by 1%.”

Sen. Seum worries about how the ripple effects of astronomical tuition debt impacts the lives of Kentucky families and businesses.

He says it affects the economy because young people either decide to skip college altogether which means business and industry will be denied the skilled educated work force they so desperately need, or they leave college saddled with so much debt, they can scarcely afford to purchase homes, automobiles, and other goods and services. They delay getting married, and they tend to borrow more money and save less.

“All this does is give a young person a reason not to attend college, and that’s a national issue,” Sen. Seum says. “Is the debt worth the degree?”

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