An issue in the news of late — both nationally and in our Commonwealth — has been the understandable concerns of parents and students across the country about the cost of higher education.
It’s a critically important issue. A college degree remains the single best indicator of future economic success as someone with a bachelor’s degree will, on average, earn close to a million dollars more over the course of a lifetime than someone without that credential. If that degree is out of reach economically for more and more families, it means that we are leaving behind too many children who can do the work and contribute greatly to our campuses and our world.
We all lose when that happens. At the same time, UK and public universities throughout the country have faced significant reductions in state funding resulting from the national recession. Many states, fortunately, are beginning to reverse that trend. But for our university, state appropriations have been cut by some $55 million on a recurring basis since 2008.
At the University of Kentucky, we have a few simple principles that inform how we address this complex issue:
First, Kentuckians come first. If a Kentuckian meets our academic standards and criteria, we want them at the University of Kentucky. The vast majority of our enrollment time, energy and resources go toward recruiting Kentuckians.
We also believe that a more diverse student body — diverse in all its forms, including recruiting students from outside our state — helps create a more comprehensive and deep educational experience. So, we’re growing our enrollment — both as an educational and financial imperative — to achieve the right balance of students, one that honors our commitment to Kentucky and to creating a diverse student body.
Second, we are devoting more resources toward scholarships and financial aid to help students — particularly Kentucky students — attend college without huge debt burdens. Consider the fact that last fall, more than 85 percent of UK undergraduates from Kentucky received scholarships or financial aid they did not have to repay. On average, the out-of-pocket expense for tuition in Fall 2012 for resident students was about $1,200.
About half of UK students graduate with debt; about half do not. Of those who do, the average debt is less than $25,000 — below the national average.
Third, we’re working hard to lower the rate of tuition increases to moderate levels to keep higher education affordable. In 2006, the four-year average increase for tuition was 13 percent. As of next year, the four-year average will be less than 5 percent.
Moreover, we are looking at the full range of student costs to try to ensure access and affordability. This fall, because of a new dining partnership with Aramark, we will lower the cost of every dining plan, while at the same time providing more options, more convenience and healthier food choices. We also will begin investing some $70 million — through our partnership — in new facilities that will create more options and also provide more support for student services and learning.
All of that is part of a comprehensive approach to creating sophisticated, but welcoming, living and learning communities that provide the best possible educational experience for our students. Again, utilizing a partnership with a national leader, we’re investing up to $500 million in private equity to building thousands of new residence hall rooms and learning spaces throughout the campus. With EdR's investment, we are able to create modern living-learning communities without expending state funds or tuition dollars.
In short, our most important principle is to place students first in everything that we do. That includes working to keep costs down, while providing a robust and high-quality educational experience for all of our students — particularly those from our Commonwealth who represent our state’s best hope for a bright future.
That’s a job without end — one that is our first and most important priority.
But I’m proud of what we are doing at UK to transform our campus to make it even better and more affordable to more students across our state and region.