Indiana's top higher education official warned Monday that legislators may demand explanations from public colleges and universities if the schools approve tuition hikes in excess of caps recently suggested by a state panel.
Earlier this month, the state's higher education commission asked Indiana's seven public colleges and universities to raise tuition for in-state students by no more than 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent.
If schools approve sharper tuition increases, top lawmakers may have some tough questions, said Teresa Lubbers, the state's higher education commissioner.
"The first time we did this, in 2009, legislative leaders on the budget committee did call the institutions to have them explain why they did what they did," Lubbers said. "I wouldn't be surprised if they did that again."
Although the universities aren't required to follow the commission's tuition recommendations, Lubbers has warned that higher increases threaten to "price people out of their opportunity for a middle-class life in Indiana."
Indiana University has proposed a 3.5-percent tuition increase for in-state students, but when a new rehabilitation and repair fee is factored in, IU's overall cost increase will be 5.5 percent in 2011-12 and 5.4 percent in 2012-13. Those increases will need to be approved by the university's board of trustees, which will meet to consider the proposals on May 31.
IU President Michael A. McRobbie said in a statement that the university has successfully reduced some of its costs by making its administrative "processes leaner and more efficient" in response to significant drops in state revenues in the recent years.
But he said IU cannot cover all of its anticipated needs by continuing to reduce its administrative costs.
"To maintain our academic quality and fully serve the needs of our growing student population, these recommended tuition increases also are needed," McRobbie said.
Ball State University has announced a proposal to increase tuition and fees by 3.9 percent next year and by an additional 4.9 percent in 2012-13. That and other tuition proposals will be discussed at a May 31 public hearing, and then presented to the school's trustees at their June meeting.
Ball State said the increases are necessary to fund its operating budget.
"I believe this is the right decision for our students and the university," said Randy Howard, vice president for business affairs and treasurer. "Our mission is to provide an education that prepares them to succeed in a rapidly changing economy."
Purdue University has proposed raising the cost of attending the West Lafayette campus by 4.5 percent for in-state students — an amount that includes a 1-percent increase for a fitness and wellness fee approved by state lawmakers. That fee will be phased in over three years, beginning with a $91 charge for the 2011-12 academic year.
Lubbers said she was heartened that Ivy Tech Community College and Purdue's three regional campuses have "clearly abided" by the commission's tuition suggestions by proposing increases of just 2.5 percent.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said recently that he hoped college officials have been getting the message that families just can't take another big increase.
Lubbers said holding down tuition increases is important because higher costs mean college will out of the reach for more young people in the state. He also said many young people cannot afford college at all, while others never complete a degree because they can't pay for several years of classes.
"We understand that all enterprises have legitimate expenses and costs but we believe Hoosier families and students are especially stressed right now," she said.