Tuition hearing turns tense
U of L's Ramsey, Cowgill square off
FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A tuition hearing before the state's higher education board grew heated at times yesterday, with one university president calling the board's budget model "crummy" and telling the official who created it his "credibility is at stake."
The exchange occurred between University of Louisville President James Ramsey and Brad Cowgill, the outgoing president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.
The two sparred several times during U of L's tuition proposal presentation to the council's Budget and Finance Policy Group. At one point, Ramsey said he would be "blown away" if the council doesn't approve the university's 9 percent tuition increase.
The council, which has the authority to set tuition rates at public universities and colleges, is scheduled to vote on increases May 9. Cowgill indicated last week that the council may reject some of proposed increases out of concerns about affordability.
"I don't know how you can do that," said Ramsey, noting that U of L's increase mirrors the rate the council used when it presented its budget proposal to Gov. Steve Beshear last fall.
"It was never a promise," Cowgill responded, explaining the percentage was used as part of a model to help members of the General Assembly understand the relationship between state revenue and tuition.
"You've got a really crummy model," Ramsey shot back. "Your logic isn't flying with me." The two continued to disagree several more times, with the most heated exchange coming during a discussion over whether U of L was looking to tuition to make up for the shortfall in state revenue,
"We're not coming anywhere close to making up the shortfall," Ramsey said. "We're trying to move forward with what you are holding us accountable for."
Cowgill noted, however, that the university's proposal documents say the tuition increase is tied to the cut in state funding. Ramsey responding by saying, "All right. All right, Brad. You win the legal argument. Mark one down for Brad Cowgill." ...
After the hearing, Ramsey said: "We don't take any joy in sitting here and asking for a 9 percent increase. But something has to give." ...
...Council officials noted that in the decade since the state enacted changes that sought to dramatically increase the number of degrees, state funding for universities and tuition rates have almost doubled, but degree production has increased far less dramatically.
Eastern Kentucky University President Doug Whitlock said he is working to increase productivity on his campus through better coordination of student support services, and working more closely with school districts to prepare students for college. "I think the onus is on us to show better productivity," he said.
University of Kentucky President Lee Todd said his campus is also taking steps to increase degrees, including hiring more advisers and seeking to decrease class sizes. But, he said, he is not at the point where he thinks students are being priced out of
"I don't hear that on campus. … We're not out of bounds in this state," he said. But he said Kentucky needs to increase funding to state universities, which he said are the long-term solution to the state's economic problems.
"Are we serious about trying to move this state forward or not?" Todd said. "I think we have to make our minds up."
State Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond, chairman of the House budget committee, said he thought it was appropriate for the council to ask the universities about their degree productivity and that the community college system's proposed increase struck him as exorbitant.
At the same time, Moberly, who is also a top administrator at EKU, agreed with Todd about the need for more state funding. "The burden will be on the governor and the General Assembly to either cut the budget or raise revenue," he said.