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Board cancels planned tuition increase for Kentucky's community and technical college students

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FRANKFORT, Kentucky — Students won't have to dig deeper to pay tuition at Kentucky's community and technical colleges after the system's governing board voted Friday to cancel a planned tuition increase for the next school year.

By holding tuition steady, regents chose student access over the extra revenue the higher tuition would have generated, said Jay Box, president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

"It will be a little bit painful for us," Box said in a phone interview. "We will have to tighten our belts. But we think that's important to do to benefit our students."

As a result, the college system's campuses will have to look for ways to reduce spending, Box said. The belt-tightening could potentially lead to staff reductions at some schools, he said.

Enrollment last fall was 87,027 in the system, comprising 16 colleges and more than 70 campuses.

Last June, the system's regents approved tuition increases for this academic year and the upcoming 2015-16 school term. The tuition hike for the current year was applied to students' bills.

The plan for the next school year was to increase tuition by $3 per credit hour for in-state students, by $6 per credit hour for out-of-state students from counties contiguous to Kentucky and by $10 per credit hour for other out-of-state students. But the regents canceled those increases at their meeting Friday in Versailles.

That means tuition rates for the next school year will be the same as current rates — $147 per credit hour rate for in-state students, $294 per credit hour rate for out-of-state students from counties contiguous to Kentucky and $515 for all other out-of-state students.

"We recognize that tuition continues to be one of the largest barriers to students who are pursuing a postsecondary education," said Board of Regents Chairman P.G. Peeples. "We remain committed to being the most affordable option for higher education in the state."

The tuition hikes next school year would have generated more than $4 million in extra revenue, Box said.

Meanwhile, state General Fund support for the community and technical college system has declined by about $22.8 million, or 10.7 percent, during an eight-year period including this year.

The system also faces higher costs for utilities, insurance and employee benefits, Box said.

To cope with the financial squeeze, the system's campuses will have to look at a number of options to reduce expenditures, and staff reductions will most likely be considered, Box said.

The system's full-time, regular workforce totals 4,571, Box said.

In 2008, when the recession hit, the system had about 24 students for every employee, he said. When enrollment surged during the height of the downturn, that ratio grew to nearly 26 to 1, he said.

The college system responded by hiring more faculty and staff to accommodate more students, he said.

Enrollment has been declining in recent years as the overall job market improved, and as a result the ratio is now 19 students for every one employee, he said.

Any staff reductions would be a "right-sizing of our employment to fit the number of students" now enrolling in the system's schools, he said. Staff cuts would likely start by not filling vacancies, he said.

Box stressed, however, that schools would look at several other ways to cut spending. He said some schools might have few or no staff cutbacks.

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