Tuesday, September 11, 2001

University officials fear tuition waivers too costly

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Education officials are questioning if the state's universities can afford a new state law that waives tuition for foster children and some adopted children.

        The waivers, approved by lawmakers earlier this year, are not reimbursed by the state. In the 2000-01 academic year, state universities absorbed $4.1 million in tuition costs, according to the Council on Postsecondary Education. More than half of the costs were for university faculty and staff.

        This year, the council projects that universities will forego $5.9 million in tuition, not including the amount universities will waive under the new law. The rise is because of an estimated increase in the number of university faculty and staff, elementary and secondary teachers, and senior citizens attending state universities on waivers this year.

        Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond, chairman of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee and an Eastern Kentucky administrator, said the waivers serve “a good public purpose.” But he said the rising cost to universities “is a concern, and I think we need to be careful before we enact more. I think we're pressing the limit now.”

        Last year, Eastern Kentucky waived $265,000 in tuition, as mandated by the state. Ken Johnston, the school's vice president for financial affairs, said university officials understand the need for the waivers, but have difficulty in not knowing how much it will cost them from one year to the next.

        “Our concern is the fact that (the waivers) are unknown amounts as we build our budgets, so we can't plan very well,” Mr. Johnston said.

        The waivers also cover children whom the state places for adoption. It's the latest in a series enacted by the Kentucky General Assembly dating to World War II. Beneficiaries have also included the children of firefighters killed on the job, senior citizens, war veterans, and university faculty and staff.

        Proponents of the newest waiver say it will make a difference in the lives of children who sometimes feel neglected.

        “This has enabled my daughter to say, "Hey, I'm important, too,'” said Cathy Trussell of Paducah, whose daughter, Emily, is taking advantage of the law as a junior at Eastern Kentucky. “I think adopted children do struggle with a lot of issues and this was a positive thing.”

        As of Aug. 31, the Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children had approved 89 tuition waivers for foster and adopted children, according to Fawn Conley, a training assistant in the Cabinet's division of protection and permanency. Numerous other applications are pending, she said, and more applications may trickle in throughout the school year as more students learn about the law. The majority of adoptions in Kentucky are handled through private agencies, and the waiver would not apply in those cases.

        Similar tuition waivers exist in Maine and Maryland. Two other states, Missouri and Iowa, considered similar legislation this year. But Kentucky's bill, sponsored by Rep. Stephen R. Nunn, R-Glasgow, was the only one made law this year, according to Travis Reindl, director of state policy for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities based in Washington, D.C.

        Sarah Arenas of Lexington said many foster children don't consider college as an option because they often don't have the money, the family support or a high school diploma. Ms. Arenas, adopted by Don Pratt in 1994 after living with him for several years as a foster child, said the waiver could provide incentive for foster children to think about postsecondary education.


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- University officials fear tuition waivers too costly