ESU: This is how to fix what’s broke and reduce college costs

Editor’s note: Last week the Kansas Board of Regents approved a student fee and tuition reduction at Emporia State University, the product of a revolutionary and controversial reorganization undertaken at ESU since 2022 – a cost reduction that notably defined the school among announced fee hikes at all other Kansas institutions. In May President & CEO Ken Hush penned this letter to ESU students and supporters to detail and define the changes at ESU and how those changes would plot a new course for the university.

For the past two and a half years, Emporia State University has made unique transformative changes to build a new future for Emporia State. Our model’s guiding principles are to deliver an extraordinary experience to best serve today’s students and Kansas families, while keeping in mind 1) ESU + Community; 2) the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR); and 3) Kansas Taxpayers. 

The landscape of higher education is changing in our country. For the past two decades, trends have shown us that student preferences, as well as time and cost tolerance, have shifted in response to the drastically increased cost of higher education to families, which has far outpaced that of most other goods and services. Why this drastic increase? To put it in perspective, in the mid-1990s, state contribution covered 65% of expenses for Kansas Regents institutions. Today, state funds cover about 35% of total expenses. On top of lower funding, decreased enrollment nationwide also means less revenue. As a result, the burden of the cost of higher education has been shifting to students and their families since 2010. 

ESU’s Memorial Union/ESU website

We knew something had to be done to disrupt the trends. It’s not right to keep passing costs on to students and their families through increased tuition and fees. That’s why we conducted an in-depth analysis, created efficiencies and made changes necessary to better serve our students and to become the state’s most efficient asset. We have been on the leading edge of change in higher education — institutions across 35 states have now begun to make similar changes. In alignment with KBOR’s “Affordability” strategic pillar, we are attacking the cost of higher education for our students and their families through scholarships and proposed a first-ever net decrease to tuition and fees. It can be difficult to lead change, but the results for our students and the future of ESU are worth it. 

We are energized by the momentum and grateful for new and additional support from the ESU Foundation, the City of Emporia, Lyon County, our regional community, the Kansas Legislature and Governor, federal funding and new and existing major charitable foundations. 

Welch Stadium at ESU/ESU website

Starting in 2022, we have identified and addressed $166 million in waste over the past two decades and have created $70 million in total savings / cost avoidance. 

Today, I am pleased to share highlights of what we have accomplished most recently: 

  • $20.1 Million — received from the Kansas Legislature and Governor in incremental one-time state funding for Fiscal Year 2025, a record for any ESU appropriation! Our 20-year average from FY 2003-23 was only $95,000. Over the past three legislative sessions, ESU received $5 million (FY 2023); $12.7 million (FY 2024); and $20.1 million (FY 2025) in addition to our ongoing annual funding. This funding is in response to the new ESU Model, which identifies and captures efficiencies and passes them along to our students, their families and the state of Kansas.

All incremental funding will ultimately benefit students, and will specifically be used for:

  • One-time Memorial Union debt payoff (resulting in more annual reduction in student fees).
  • Continued investment in program development.
  • Regional university stabilization.


  • $15 million bond debt.
  • $9 million in interest.
  • $475 / year in student fees to pay back the bond.

By studying the most recent shifts in the industry, shifts in the economy, KBOR data and national enrollment cliff predictions, we have known for several years that the future will continue to be difficult for higher education. Demographic trends are not in our favor, and competition for students is intense. Emporia State is not waiting — we are working proactively to respond to these major challenges NOW!

We will continue to be the transparent university. As you can see, legislators and Hornet Nation are responding with their support of our vision, direction and action. 

Thank you for your continued support of Emporia State University. It’s a great day to be a Hornet!

Ken Hush – President, Emporia State University

Kenneth James Hush is an American businessman and 18th president of Emporia State University. Prior to becoming the president, Hush served as interim president from November 2021 to June 2022, and held multiple executive titles at Koch Minerals and Carbon. Hush is a former tennis player for Emporia State.