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Regents approve MSU tuition hike

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

MURRAY - Murray State students will see increases in tuition and several other campus fees this fall.

Regents approved a 5 percent tuition increase - an additional $174 for full-time in-state students per year - during their quarterly meeting Friday at the Pogue Library on campus. Regent Jeremiah Johnson cast the sole dissenting vote.

The increase will net the university an additional $4.9 million for the next fiscal year, according to Regent Stephen Williams. The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education in April passed a two-year tuition and mandatory fee ceiling of 8 percent, with a maximum 5 percent in the first year. 

Johnson voiced concern that the university has made a practice of increasing tuition to make up for budgetary deficits.

"We keep raising tuition to cover the expenses of the university," he said. "We can't keep functioning like this ... we will eventually be more expensive than private institutions."

Chairman Constantine Curris agreed and emphasized his frustration with yearly cutbacks to higher education funding on the state level. But he also stated that even with the increase, Murray State still provides one of the lowest prices among public colleges in Kentucky.

"We are not proud to raise tuition to compensate for declining operational support from the state," he said.

Regent Jerry Sue Thornton agreed, adding, "We are forced to put that cost on the backs of our students."

The Legislature passed operational funding cutbacks of 1.5 percent that sliced the school's annual budget by about $1.2 million. President Tim Miller and a budget task force worked for several months to whittle down the more than $5 million difference between university revenue and expenses.

Regents also approved several other fees to student services, including a 4 percent increase to housing rates for every dormitory other than the College Courts Apartments. The board passed increases to parking rates from $55 to $75 for most students and from $35 to $45 for freshmen, which will raise $136,900 in additional revenue. The board accepted an increase for equine stall rental from $500 to $560 per semester.

Williams presented the overall 2014-2015 budget of $163 million, a 3.8 percent or $6 million increase from the previous year. The document included a 1 percent contingency raise for employees at a cost of $900,000, which would apply retroactively if enrollment increases and expenses decrease between July and December. He said the college has lost $7.1 million - or 13 percent - in state funding over the past seven years. Regents passed the budget unanimously.

Spring enrollment saw a 1.7 percent overall decrease from 9,943 to 9,781 students, but a 23 percent increase in new freshmen. Numbers for the fall semester are trending toward nearly a 1 percent increase, or about 58 students, according to Regent Sharon Green.

The board also discussed the progress of several capital projects from what Regent Marilyn Buchanon called "one of the most successful legislative sessions for Murray State in 12 to 15 years."

Regents approved the 10-year housing plan and future construction of the 114,000-square foot, 380-bed Franklin Hall dormitory. The college will use a 20-year bond totaling $28.53 million for the project, set to be complete by August 2016.

The state budget also included $31.9 million in state bonds toward the $36.9 million engineering and physics building set to be complete in fall 2016. The board approved up to $5 million of funding for the project that will then be reimbursed through private donations, Williams said.

The board also allocated $955,000 to rebuild a non-working electrical transformer, $42,000 toward improvements and renovations to the president's residence, and $509,000 in reserves toward $2.1 million in critical deferred maintenance and electrical upgrades to Waterfield and Pogue libraries. The North 16th Street study and creation of a five-point intersection in Murray, which were included in this year's highway construction budget, were also discussed.

In other meeting business, the board approved the addition of a master of sciences in economic development degree. Regents also voted to revise the educational tuition waiver to cover spouses and partners. Curris voiced some concern that the total scope of the program and cost to the university should be evaluated according to other similar colleges, but voted in favor to the change.

Curris stepped down as chairman, but will remain on the board another year, and Harry Lee Waterfield II was appointed chairman. Buchanon, who is leaving the board, was replaced as vice chairman by Green. Buchanon, Johnson and Miller, whose presidency will end in mid-July, were recognized with resolutions of appreciation.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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