By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS - Northern Kentucky University may have to raise tuition by nearly 20 percent while turning away new students because of a state budget deficit that could swallow a big piece of the university's funding.
NKU's Board of Regents was told Wednesday that state funding could be cut as much as 10 percent, or $4 million, if Kentucky lawmakers do not find new revenue to plug a $500 million hole in the state's two-year budget.
According to a report made to the regents by Gerald Hunter, vice president for enrollment services and financial planning, NKU could "raise tuition as much as 18 percent this year just to maintain existing programs and services" and cap enrollment at about 14,000 students - current enrollment is an estimated 13,750 - "at a time when the university is experiencing the greatest student demand in our history."
Tuition is now $134 per semester hour for an in-state, fulltime undergraduate student taking 12 to 16 hours, and $311 per hour for a student living outside Kentucky, according to a fee scheduled posted on NKU's Web site.
NKU spokesman Chris Cole called the potential cuts "a major setback for the region as well as the entire commonwealth."
Less state funding could also result in:
Increasing class size.
Delaying an expansion of enrollment in nursing, information technology and education.
Delaying building maintenance.
Limiting a planned expansion of academic programs and services in some of the region's rural communities.
Eliminating a lobbyist who works in Washington to increase federal funding for the university.
Curtailing support for economic development initiatives, including an effort with local governments to recruit technology companies to the region.
Mr. Hunter told regents some combination of cuts cited in his report would have to be made "if the General Assembly is unable to follow through with its commitment to adequately fund education."
Katie Herschede, president of the NKU Student Government Association and a student regent, described Wednesday's meeting as a "reality check, a tough gut check about how bad things really are in Frankfort."
"And if these cuts are made, there is going to be a huge impact on NKU and its students, faculty and staff," said Ms. Herschede, a senior from Fort Thomas studying business management.
"We need our old science building renovated," she said. "If that doesn't happen, we don't get classroom space we need very badly. We need a new student center. Our current center was built for 5,000 students, now we have almost 14,000 students. And if tuition is raised and enrollment is capped, it will be devastating to this university."
Kentucky House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, a long-time advocate for NKU, said talk of specific cuts is "premature," but he acknowledged that the budget situation "does not look good."
"I'm as close to the budget process as anyone in Frankfort," said Mr. Callahan, a member of the House Budget Committee who has served 17 years in the legislature. "And I've never seen a (budget) situation like this, never one this bad."
Lawmakers will begin meeting in Frankfort during the first week of February. They hope to have a budget by the end of that month with as few cuts as possible to higher education, Mr. Callahan said.
Kentucky faces a $500 million budget deficit in the fiscal year that ends June 30. To raise revenue Gov. Paul Patton, a two-term Democrat who leaves office in December, has said taxes, possibly on businesses, are going to have to be raised. And state Rep. Jon Draud, R-Crestview Hills, a part-time NKU instructor, has filed a bill to raise the state's cigarette tax, now the second lowest in the nation at 3 cents a pack. It has not been increased since 1970.
But Republicans in the GOP-controlled state Senate have said there is no sentiment in their chamber to raise taxes.
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