Eastern Kentucky University's Board of Regents approved an increase in the in-state tuition rates for the 2016-2017 school year Wednesday.Tuition will be increased by five percent, which equates to an extra $209 a semester, or $418 yearly, for all in-state residents.The rate increase is slightly below the tuition cap of 5.3 percent that was set Tuesday by Kentucky's Council on Postsecondary Education for 2016-17.The board also approved to increasing 2016-2017 residence hall rates by 3.8 to 5.4 percent. EKU Student Government Association President Katie Scott was the only vote against the increase.Barry Poynter, vice president for finance and administration, said the rate of residence hall increases is based upon the hall's conditions and amenities.Tuition for Model Laboratory School will remain the same as approved by the regents.During his report to the board, President Michael Benson recommended that several cost-avoidance actions take place in order for the university to remain financially stable.Most of the actions, which were recommended by a number of departments and committees, affect employees of the university directly.The board approved proposals to: reduce the tuition waiver benefit for current full-time employees from twelve, to nine credit hours; revise the university's cell phone policy which, according to Benson, costs the university nearly $300,000 a year; increase benefit eligibility for part-time employees who work 30 hours up from 24, which will reportedly save the university $115,000; allow full-time staff to only accrue one year of vacation time instead of two years.The president said while the university's benefits package is a great recruiting tool for potential employees, these changes would put EKU in line with other institutions.Benson also recommended, and the board approved the creation of a faculty efficiency task force which will work with faculty members on ways they can rely less on adjuncts and contractual employees.As the budget discussions move forward, the university president asked the board to consider creating a university-wide budget review committee."We all know, going into this process, time is not our friend," Benson told the regents. "Going forward, we need to look for ways to become more efficient."The president proposed the group consist of both members from the academic side and staff sides of the university, and that they bring forth ideas about how to handle budget concerns to the board's June meeting.Benson also recommended looking into modifying some aspects of the university's healthcare plan while also reviewing the university's contractual services for the state, which returns little, if any, revenue.According to the president, the measures would save the university roughly $1.5 million.The board unanimously approved a contract extension for Benson during Wednesday's meeting, which would add an additional two years on the president's current obligation.Chairman Craig Turner said Benson's extension comes with no increase in salary and has the same conditions for termination as the president's original contract.After the board's approval, Benson was treated to a round of applause.Regent Janet Craig praised the president for his efforts to address the university's budget issues.
'We as a board, appreciate the job the president is doing. If financial circumstances were better, I would vote for a raise. We know he is the right one to lead us through these times," Craig said during the meeting.Turner also complimented Benson's work saying the president was "extremely innovative and responsive" to the changing needs of the university.Turner also enlightened the board on the decision of university presidents to agree to Governor Matt Bevin's immediate 4.5 percent cuts and the challenges that await."Unfortunately, we are on a very short time frame with some of the challenges, because of mixed messages from congress," Turner said Wednesday afternoon.The Board of Regents chair said while Benson and other university president's "fought a really good fight," the surprise budget cut of 4.5 percent to the current year and the agreement of the governor to reduce the cuts to two percent drove the president's to agree."Under the current situation we feel it was the right thing to do," Turner said.Benson later admitted to the board he felt as if he and the other president's backs were against the wall at the time.However, Turner warned the board the future performance-based funding criteria will be another challenge the university will face.According to Turner, the performance-based funding guidelines are more like additional cuts to the university as all post-secondary schools will be put together in a pool with specific metrics that will lead to a "winner takes all" scenario. Under Bevin's proposed plan, one-third of state funding for universities in the 2017-18 fiscal year would be based on this model. Turner said he is confident EKU will be able to remain at the top of the list of high-performing schools, but warned that changes would have to be made and that details have yet to be defined in the proposed model."The real danger in the future is performance-based cuts," Turner explained. "However, students are going to remain our primary focus. We are not going to compromise our academic standards and our faculty and staff are our greatest assets."The chair said Wednesday's discussion, while not a light-hearted topic, was one of progress."As we look at the budget, there may be short-term pain for long-term success. Today we have had unbelievably healthy conversation about what is important to Eastern."