When tuition increased yet again this year, it wasn’t unexpected. But the alternative to the two percent increase may come as a surprise: it was either this or outsourcing jobs.
At the same meeting where the Washburn University Board of Regents decided to charge students an extra $4 per credit hour, it had to make a decision about whether to outsource Washburn’s maintenance jobs to a bigger company, UGL Unicco. The outsourcing was one option to increase the university budget, but the Board decided not to negotiate a contract with Unicco in a narrow vote of 4-3.
“They said we could save about $500,000,” said Blanche Parks, a member of the Board of Regents for nearly 15 years. “But I’m not for cutting jobs.”
Parks was one of the four to vote against the contract and was also the only board member to vote against the two percent tuition increase. She said she “felt there could have been other ways” of raising the money instead of raising the cost of schooling.
She was also afraid that the students wouldn’t understand.
“I know it’s a hardship for students, but it’s important for the students to understand that the university depends on tuition dollars to be able to operate and maintain an excellent academic university,” she said.
But sophomore Brandon Marshall doesn’t think that the students would be so upset about tuition increases if it was clear what the board was spending the money on. He said he transferred out of the last college he was at because he found out that 80 percent of the budget was spent on advertising. Marshall didn’t mind that his tuition this year was being raised to cover the costs of Washburn’s maintenance workers, but he didn’t think that was the real issue.
“[The question of outsourcing custodians] is insulting to me personally because it never should have been brought up in the first place. Our custodians do a good job,” said Marshall, who also said that the university hasn’t done a good job at managing the budget.
“Where could they cut back? You have to look at the entire thing,” he said. “Like with Chartwells, it was a bad investment, and it continued to be a bad investment. It’s obvious that [board members] have not shopped around.”
Tuition prices, for this year at least, have saved the facilities services workers’ jobs, but shop mechanic and union president Michael Haze warned that this won’t be the end of it.
“The two percent is in there. Now it’s going to be part of the budget. And Unicco is still here, so we’ve got to look out,” he said.
Haze said that the outsourcing would have damaged the workers’ economic standings as well as their work ethics. Unicco would have paid at a semi-rate of pay, so workers “would pay their own medical insurance and then also face a reduction in benefits,” he said.
If Washburn outsourced the maintenance jobs to Unicco, then the workers would owe their allegiance to Unicco. This would mean that they would have to follow orders instead of thinking about what’s best for the university.
“We are the lowest paid people on this campus,” Haze said, “Just look at our wages for the last 15, 20 years and you see how committed we are. Not many people would work for those kind of wages.”
But Haze also wished the board had thought of another way to raise the money for the budget instead of raising tuition. He said that if more people were willing to take pay cuts across the board, then perhaps the situation wouldn’t be so severe.
“I’m very humbled by the students taking on this responsibility,” said Haze, who added that his “ideal situation” would be to find out how to save enough money to someday give back that two percent to the students.
To put that “two percent” in perspective though, in the 1998-1999 school year, tuition was $135 per credit hour. Now, for the 2009-2010 school year, tuition is $201 per credit hour. It’s a raise of nearly 50 percent. The drastic tuition raise concerns some, like Haze and Marshall, that the tuition has too often increased in order to give faculty members raises.
“There are more than just raises that go into tuition. The cost of going to college has increased,” said Parks. She also said that not everyone is given a raise, but that faculty members receive raises based on how they are rated. “A lot goes into it. It’s hard to explain,” she said.
The board isn’t just trying to get money out of the students. At the June meeting, the board voted down a proposed three percent increase on the grounds that it might have given the university a surplus that the board said it doesn’t need.
“I just want to stress that the board tries to make the best decisions possible in the best interest of Washburn University and its students. A lot of times the best decisions are not the easiest to make,” said Parks.