Facing a looming budget shortfall totaling nearly $8 million, Western Kentucky University is pursuing a 2% tuition hike for undergraduate students, a proposal WKU’s Board of Regents will review Friday.

This comes as WKU waits for a final decision from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education about how high public universities can raise tuition this year. The CPE is expected to make that decision by mid-May.

“Increasing tuition is never taken lightly,” a budget development update included in agenda materials for the board’s second quarterly meeting said. “However, in a time of historically declining or flat state support, the (budget executive committee) recognizes that the institution must consider an increase.”

As the state’s share of funding higher education has shrunk in recent years, Kentucky college students have been asked to pick up more and more of the tab.

A report in February from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy said Kentucky is among the 10 states with the worst cuts to state funding for higher education since before the Great Recession.

“Lawmakers spent 27.0%, or $2,977, less per Kentucky student in 2019 compared to 2008 – far exceeding the national average decline of 11.6% or $1,033 per student,” the report said. “These cuts have helped drive up the cost of public colleges and universities, imposing the greatest cost burden on families of color and those with low incomes.”

Tuition and fees contributed to about 47% of WKU’s overall $353.2 million in revenue in the current operating budget. State appropriations, by contrast, made up about 20%.

In the fall of 2020, undergraduate enrollment declined by 3.6% from fall 2019, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. That enrollment decline has continued to grow: spring undergraduate enrollment is down 5.9% compared to the same time last year, per the NSC Research Center.

The budget development narrative included in materials for the regents’ meeting cast an uncertain shadow on fall 2021 projections, stating that “fall 2021 enrollment is difficult to forecast due to the unprecedented closure of high schools for most of (academic year) 2020-2021 year.”

It also said “communications with high school students have been challenging during the pandemic.”

Additionally, meeting materials said WKU is facing $7,882,662 in so-called “soft” budget cuts, which will need to be addressed in the university’s fiscal year 2022 budget.

“These targets will be managed by the respective dean or vice president. The targets can be addressed through a multitude of ways including operational spending reductions, travel reductions, lapse personnel dollars, strategic hiring pauses, etc.,” the meeting materials said.

Most of the cuts (54%, or $4,256,636) will fall on WKU’s academic and support units, while administrative support units will shoulder a smaller share of the burden (46% or $3,626,024).

Campus administrators have framed the cuts as significantly smaller than the $27 million budget deficit WKU had to contend with when the current fiscal year’s budget was being developed. The cuts will also be “bottom-up” rather than “top-down,” Susan Howarth, WKU’s chief financial officer, said last month.

“They can use every tool they have in the toolbox,” she said. “That would be lapse salary, travel reductions, procurement reductions, hiring pauses – but again, that would be up to the individual deans and vice presidents.”

After a year of faculty and staff efforts to keep the campus operational amid the pandemic, WKU’s Budget Executive Committee is also recommending the creation of a 2% compensation pool in the fiscal year 2022. The funds will be dispersed by mid-year (January 2022) for faculty and staff raises.

“As this pool will be distributed in January, half of this pool, or approximately $1.1 million, will be identified in the FY 2022 budget. The remaining amount will be earmarked in the FY 2023 budget. The final distribution methodology of this pool will be determined by senior leadership, in concert with campus shared governance groups,” the meeting materials note.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.

Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.