By Kristina Goetz, The Cincinnati Enquirer
and Charles Wolfe, The Associated Press
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS - Northern Kentucky University's president warned that students next fall may face tuition increases as high as 15 to 20 percent - or $750 annually - if Gov. Ernie Fletcher's plan to cut more higher education funding sticks.
"If these cuts hold, it will have several implications for us, and we are proceeding as if they are," said James Votruba. "We would have to find $4 million to send back to the state this fiscal year; $2 million has already gone back. We're waiting now to see what the remainder will be. We estimate that it will be about $2 million."
College and university officials across the state have said they are looking at cutting programs or tenured faculty. Votruba said NKU administrators would discuss whether to reduce programs with low enrollment and cut services for under-prepared students. But he is not ready to say the university will lay off tenured faculty.
"We may not fill faculty positions that are open, and we may lay off staff," he said.
But that's not all. Votruba said NKU is looking at outsourcing services on campus, including child care. Administrators may reduce the amount of paper the college uses and the number of cell phones it pays for. Students who use a credit card to pay their college bills may soon be charged a percentage fee. And computers in campus labs may be replaced every five years instead of four, Votruba said.
Full-time, in-state students at NKU now pay $3,744 per year in tuition and fees.
NKU's student government association will hold an information session at noon Wednesday on campus about the potential tuition increases.
"Some students are upset, and we want to hear what problems they are having," said Andy Hixson, one of four vice presidents in student government.
Votruba said he recognizes that many students struggle to pay for a higher education.
"I'm worried that across America, we are privatizing higher education. That is at variance with what has been 140 years of public policy in this nation," Votruba said, adding that at NKU, "We're going to try to protect quality and access above all else."
Fletcher on Monday defended taking money from public schools and universities to help shore up the budget.
He said education was spared until the last possible minute and now has a bigger share of the General Fund, thanks to deeper cuts elsewhere in state government.
"What we have done here overall, basically, is increase the percentage of funding that education gets out of the budget," Fletcher said at a news conference.
Fletcher ordered widespread cuts in spending to avoid a $302 billion budget shortage in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Most agencies have yet to disclose where they will cut spending. But Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit decided that cuts for elementary and secondary schools would come from a range of programs, including family resource centers and after-school services. The total was about $7 million.
Local school districts have budget reserves totaling $256 million, said Virginia Fox, secretary of the Education, Arts and Humanities Cabinet, who joined Fletcher at the news conference.
In addition to money from elementary and secondary schools, the administration plans to take $45 million from "discretionary funds" of state universities and community colleges. Those funds include tuition payments and ticket money for athletic events.
Fox said current budget problems were forecast four years ago.
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