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Proposed 2018-19 Tuition

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students:

An ominous first sentence in a New York Times op-ed piece in May 2017 says it all.

“The country’s most powerful engine of upward mobility is under assault,” penned Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist David Leonhardt.

Leonhardt was referring to dwindling support for a public higher education system that not long ago was the envy of the world. In some respects, it still is, but the dream of a college degree is becoming increasingly out of reach for low- and even middle-income students and families. And more and more students who assume loans find themselves buried under massive debt. It saddens me that a nation that once led the world in college attainment now ranks well down the list. But rising costs and soaring debt are only part of the story. Often lost in the debate is the fact that higher education’s democratic purpose – preparing a well-rounded and highly engaged citizenry – is imperiled when college is financially beyond the reach of far too many Americans.

Located within EKU’s primary service region are some of the most economically disadvantaged counties in the United States. Nearly 90 percent of our students are Kentuckians, and half are first-generation, low-income or both. Additionally, 76 percent of our graduates go on to work in the Commonwealth within one year, and many fill positions critical to our quality of life. Any decrease in enrollment and graduation rates would rob some of our most vulnerable communities of new police officers, emergency medical technicians, nurses, social workers, teachers and more.

At Eastern Kentucky University, the percentage of our operating budget derived from state appropriations has dropped precipitously – from 43.3 percent in 2007 to 26.7 percent today. In order to provide the quality educational experience that our students need to succeed in today’s world, we have made up the difference through tuition increases, private support, and belt tightening that doesn’t sacrifice academic quality. The story is much the same at many of our sister institutions across Kentucky and elsewhere, as lawmakers grapple with rising pension system costs, infrastructure needs, and a host of other pertinent issues.

Despite annual tuition increases, the demand for a quality education persists. With its costs roughly in the middle of the pack in Kentucky, EKU has enjoyed near-record enrollment the past three years. This growth has been aided by an increase in merit-based scholarships, which has also resulted in more of Kentucky’s best and brightest students choosing our University.

We are committed to making the goal of an Eastern Kentucky University education within the reach of all those who wish to pursue it.  But our recent pattern of annual tuition hikes in the range of 3 to 5 percent is not sustainable.  Therefore, I will recommend to our Board of Regents on November 15th that we freeze tuition for one year at our 2017-18 levels.

There will be increases in fixed and unavoidable costs associated with housing and meal plan contracts, as well as deferred maintenance issues.  Nevertheless, tuition is an area where we can begin to take a stand for our students. And we intend to do so.

Will this require even further belt tightening? Most definitely. But just as surely as we can never cut our way to excellence, neither should we price ourselves out of reach. We can ease the burden on our students in the short term, and show our continued dedication to improving Kentuckians’ lives and communities, by breaking the cycle of yearly tuition increases in the coming year.

We have updated and rebuilt our facilities during the most comprehensive revitalization campaign in University history, re-organized our colleges and fine-tuned programs to meet the needs of our students, and created welcoming new traditions that celebrate our University and our heritage as a “College of Opportunity.” We’ve done all of this to fulfill our goal of giving our students every advantage possible to succeed.

We now return a laser focus on an affordable tuition model. All of this work collectively and the hard work to come in the future forms what we chose to call the “EKU Advantage.” It is the right thing to do. And it is what our students, University, and state deserve.

Holding tuition steady for the next year is our way of telling students and their families, “We hear you.” It is a small first step, but an important one, in our quest to provide value to students and provide a qualified workforce for the Commonwealth. Moving forward, we will continue to develop and define the EKU Advantage, with a focus on preserving for future generations what has always been an affordable and unsurpassed educational experience.

Michael T. Benson

Published on November 08, 2017

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