university of louisville belknap campus generic

The University of Louisville's main Belknap campus.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The University of Louisville plans its 19th tuition increase in 20 years with a proposed 1.75% hike for Kentucky-resident undergraduates in the 2021-22 academic year.

The plan, which requires approval by the school’s board of trustees on June 24, would push tuition and mandatory fees above $12,000 per year for in-state students for the first time.

University officials stress that the increase of $104 per semester will be more than offset by one-time payments in the 2021-22 academic year of at least $400 per semester to many undergraduate students using federal coronavirus relief aid.

They also say U of L is still cheaper than its in-state rival, the University of Kentucky, especially when costs such as housing and meals are considered.

While other colleges saw a drop in students during the COVID-19 pandemic, U of L’s headcount for the current academic year increased, exceeding projections and bringing more tuition revenue than the administration expected.

The university will get a slight increase in state money to support its operation in the next school year, bucking the decades-long trend of dwindling state support. And, the university is in line for $77 million in COVID-19 aid from the various federal aid packages.

Despite all that, U of L still has escalating costs that must be offset with more tuition revenue, Chief Financial Officer Dan Durbin told WDRB News in an interview.

“We have institutional costs that we have to recover – cost increases in health insurance and operating expenses – that we have to meet,” Durbin said.

Those costs include increases in academic unit budgets to serve more students and a pool for employee raises of about 2%.

The university also plans to fully reinstate its employee retirement contributions, which were briefly slashed to zero last year to preserve cash and have been only partially restored.

When the pandemic took hold, the university also stopped charging a higher rate for online classes, a move that cost $8.4 million in annual revenue, according to a budget presentation given to the trustees on Thursday.

The “grants” of federal COVID-19 relief money will provide a minimum of $400 to each student each semester and as much as $1,500 for students with the highest financial needs, Durbin said.

But only upper-class students, not freshmen, will be eligible for the payments because of federal guidelines because they must have attended U of L in the current academic year, Durbin said.

About 10,000 of 16,000 undergraduates will be eligible for the payments, he said. 

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto has proposed what he calls a “historically small” increase of 1% hike in undergraduate tuition for the coming year, which UK’s board will consider next month.

UK is not providing direct payments to students through its COVID-19 aide, according to a spokesman.

The cost to attend U of L has more than doubled, adjusted for inflation, since 2001.

Made with Flourish

Kentucky’s public universities have aggressively raised prices for twenty years, part of the general inflation in higher education costs and a consequence of state lawmakers providing less public money to support college budgets.

U of L is slated to get $130 million from Kentucky taxpayers for the coming academic year, about 10% of its budget.

“As state support declines, as other support decreases, we have rising costs and our options to pass those costs on are very limited, and so we do have to turn to tuition and fees,” Durbin said.

He noted that U of L each year increases financial aid, whether through federal Pell Grants or institutional funding, to partially offset the increase in the “sticker price.” (U of L provides about $50 million in financial aid annually, compared to tuition revenue of about $300 million).

The price increases haven’t reduced demand. U of L expects 23,402 students, including graduate programs, in the coming year, up from 23,202.

“The brand is strong,” Durbin said. “Students are voting with their feet in coming here.”

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2021 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.