For months, really years, a storm has been brewing in Butler County. Butler County taxpayers continue to be unfairly taxed, and feel unheard, by Butler Community College leadership. In response, a Fair Funding initiative seeks more balanced funding with a permanent mill levy reduction.
What does Fair Funding look like? For starters, we’ve proposed a permanent 5 mill property tax reduction which would amount to approximately $3.5 million in taxpayer savings. We have also suggested funding could be recouped by increasing out-of-county tuition by $25/credit hour (which actually would be 50% less than WSU). This increase would be on the 80% of BCC’s students who do NOT live in Butler County.
The Board of Trustees along with President Krull strongly oppose mill levy reduction and the proposed tuition increase. President Krull cited a study that indicated a $25/hour increase would reduce enrollment by 8%. What strikes me as odd is that President Krull failed to mention that the Trustees had already increased all tuition and fees by $8/hour for the 2018 Fall semester with no mention of offsetting our mill levy. If there are intentions to lower our mill levy, those intentions were not shared at the joint meeting between the trustees and commissioners last week.
Instead, during last week’s meeting, attendees were told by Trustee Greg Joyce that the tuition was set for the upcoming year. His point was clear, the Board would be unable to lower our BCC mill levy based on the proposed increase, presumably because our request came too late. We were NOT told that tuition was scheduled to increase in 2018-19. This was quite an oversight considering the majority of the meeting was dedicated to BCC defending the current fee and tuition levels and saying that increases will negatively affect BCC’s enrollment with significant damage to the college’s ability to execute its mission.
Now that we realize a tuition increase was already approved by the Board of Trustees, without a proportional property tax reduction, there is much to further consider. Unfortunately, the new tuition increase is yet another illustration of the unfairness handed once again to our students. BCC students that live in Butler County will receive the largest percentage increase of all the students next year (due to increased fees that all students pay). In-county BCC students’ tuition and fees will go from $98/credit hour to $106 which is an 8% increase. Meanwhile, out-of-county students will find their tuition going up 7%, out-of-state tuition will go up 5%, and international students will only see a 4% increase. It is important for taxpayers to understand that all students outside the state of Kansas receive NO State aid monies. Zero. This means Butler County taxpayers are subsidizing all students that are not residents of Kansas. That’s quite an expensive investment we have been asked to make for students that live outside our State! In addition, they’ve lowered on-line tuition/fees to $47 – a 30% reduction from last year. Taking an online class is now 1/6 the cost of an online class than WSU and the lowest rate in AY 2018 (school year 2017-18) of any Kansas community college. Yet… we cannot lower taxpayers mill levy?
Once again – Butler County in-county students and taxpayers are given the short end of the stick at our community college. How much longer will this disparity continue to grow?
With this increase, it is now understandable why the proposal to lower the mill levy by increasing ONLY out-of-county tuition was staunchly rejected – the Trustees had ALREADY increased tuition on ALL students.
But let’s look at President Krull’s concern that increasing tuition by the proposed $25 would cause an 8% enrollment reduction, therefore we should not do it. Let’s check the math.
144,000 credit hours taken by out-of-county students.
BCC’s current tuition and fee cost of $109 per hour for those students.
This adds up to $15.7 million from out-of-county tuition.
If President Krull’s study is right and the proposed $25 per credit hour increase reduces out-of-county enrollment by 8%, that gives us 132,480 out-of-county credit hours at the new higher cost.
Multiply the lower credit hours by the proposed new out-of-county cost:
132,480 hours x $134 per hour nets $17.75 million.
That’s over $2 million more than the current unfair rates provide.
Will the 8% reduction in enrollment actually happen? It’s important to note that President Krull’s 8% enrollment decrease is based on a consultant’s guess and could be higher or lower. A good case can be made that there will be little or no out-of-county enrollment reduction due to the higher cost. It is also important to note:
60% of the out-of-county students come from Sedgwick County.
Only 27% of enrollment takes place on the main campus in El Dorado.
BCC’s main competitors for these students are Wichita State University, Hutchinson Community College, and Cowley County Community College.
Since BCC’s higher proposed rates are 40% lower than Wichita State University’s current fee structure – BCC is still a great bargain compared to WSU.
Sedgwick County students will be highly unlikely to make the longer drive to the other community colleges. Do they really want to drive an hour each way to Hutchinson or Ark City/Winfield?
These factors make a compelling case that there will be little or no reduction in BCC Out-of-County enrollment and if there is no reduction in enrollment the new higher Out-of-County rates provides a $3.6 million increase in BCC’s revenue.
So, if Pres. Krull’s consultant is right, and enrollment goes down 8%, then the fee increase covers 57% of the proposed 5 mill levy reduction, some of the remaining revenue loss will be made up from the cost savings of serving fewer students.
If there is no reduction in enrollment, the new out-of-county rates will cover ALL of the proposed mill levy reduction.
And since we all agree that BCC’s will still be the closest community college to Wichita and a great higher education value – even with an out-of-county increase, it’s fair to think that enrollment may not decline much at all.
Besides, BCC’s enrollment has been declining by 12.9% since 2012. The trend may continue. This trend makes it difficult to blame an out-of-county decrease as the sole, or even primary reason for any future decline.
Let’s get back to the Fall 2018 tuition increase recently set by the Board of Trustees.
Why such a high increase to Butler County in-county students?
First, the average Kansans wages have barely kept pace with the consumer price index which has only been rising 1-2% annually – not 8%.
Note: increasing tuition rates to ALL students without property tax relief is unnecessary especially when county taxpayers are unfairly and increasingly subsidizing a disproportional percentage of out-of-county students bills.
Second, let’s check out BCC’s enrollment trend vs. it’s expenses:
From 2012-2017, BCC enrollment has gone down 12.9%.
From 2017 to 2018, enrollment dropped 6%.
In the same time span, expenses are UP 7%.
Does this make sense?
Higher expense, i.e. more money spent.
Higher tuition and fees.
And they need higher property taxes?
Is this fair?
Is this how our community college should operate?
The facts are clear. Butler County taxpayers are paying a disproportional amount of tax. We pay $14 million annually to subsidize 80% of BCC’s students that do not reside in our County and who do not pay any property taxes. This is simply not fair. For those students that live in our County and attend BCC, they receive a $418,000 reduction in tuition in exchange for Butler County taxpayers paying $14 million.
So, I ask once again -- is this fair? There is still time for the Board of Trustees to do the right thing.