Student fee would help pay for Kentucky college maintenance

A proposed fee to help Kentucky’s public universities renovate and maintain aging buildings could cost college students hundreds more each year, even as tuition payments continue their steady climb.

When Gov. Matt Bevin released his two-year budget proposal last month, higher education officials were pleased to see a $300 million bond issue that would help renovate aging buildings on Kentucky’s campuses.

But to tap the proposed pool of money, public universities would have to raise millions more in a dollar-for-dollar match. They’re turning to students for the money.

A rule approved last week by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education will allow colleges and universities to raise much of the required matching money by charging students a new fee that could cost students as much as $300 a year, or anywhere from a 2.5 to 3.7 percent increase in their total tuition and fees.

Nothing will happen until the General Assembly approves a budget bill in April. If Bevin’s proposed bond issue is included in the final bill, the state’s eight public universities can then consider implementing the fee.

Student fees would probably only raise about half of the money needed, so schools would have to raise the rest themselves, said Robert King, president of the council.

“So many of our campuses are struggling with this problem of aging buildings,” King said. “It’s very difficult to raise philanthropic funds for replacing a roof or air conditioning.”

According to a recent study, there are $7 billion in renovation needs on Kentucky’s campuses, King said. In the last decade, schools have spent about $800 million on deferred maintenance, of which only about $260 million was provided by the state.

The council’s rule would allow schools to impose a fee of $10 per credit hour, which would be capped at 15 hours per semester. The money raised could only be used for renovations of buildings that are used for student instruction. At the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, the fee would be capped at $5 per credit hour.

The council regulates tuition increases at Kentucky’s universities, which are separate from the proposed fee. So it’s possible that some students could see a 3 percent tuition increase next fall and another 3 percent increase from the proposed fee.

“It’s certainly an additional burden on students, but the approach we’ve described here was to try to define a partnership between the institution, students and family, and the state,” King said.

Universities sometimes raise student fees to pay for buildings, but mostly ones that directly serve the non-academic needs of students. For example, a few years ago, the University of Kentucky implemented an annual fee of $162 to help pay for a $200 million student center, which is expected to open in late spring. In addition, UK levied a $6 fee to go toward a “campus modernization” fund.

Eastern Kentucky University already has a $300-a-year fee to pay for improving student-centered facilities. It’s not clear if they would add on more.