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Chat about crumbling classrooms with Reggie Robinson, president of the Kansas Board of Regents

September 18, 2006

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Reggie Robinson

State lawmakers in August released $15 million for repairs at public universities, but higher education officials say that's not enough to make a dent in the massive amount of needed work. A 2004 assessment of the six regents universities found a maintenance backlog of $584.5 million worth of projects. Reggie Robinson, president of the board of regents, will chat with readers about how Kansas universities are making due.

Moderator:

Hi folks! I'm Joel Mathis, managing editor for convergence here at the Journal-World, and we're glad to have Reggie Robinson here with us. Thanks for joining us.

Reggie Robinson:

Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.

Godot:

Hello, Mr. Robinson, thank you for taking my question. I am concerned that money allocated to KU for maintenance will actually be spent for that purpose. The fact that we are talking about "deferred maintenance" supports my concern. What assurances do we have that KU administration will not divert maintenance dollars to other projects, as it has done in the past?

Reggie Robinson:

Actually, Godot, I don't have the sense that KU has "diverted" dollars intended for maintenance to some other purpose. My sense is that the state funding stream dedicated to that purpose is simply too small to take care of what needs to be done. However, I do accept your bottom line assertion that institutions need to be accountable for the dollars they receive, and we will ensure that such accountability is present.

Baille:

Neither candidate for governor is taking the issue of maintaining Kansas' universities seriously. In a story today in the Journal-World, Governor Sebelius suggested she supported research and Candidate Barnett offered to give tax-breaks to Kansas families. When faced with these sorts of nonsensical responses to serious and troubling concerns about the continued viability of our institutions of higher education, how can the Board maintain any realistic hope that fudning for fixing the maintenance backlogs will ever materialize?

Reggie Robinson:

Great question. That is a frustration from our perspective as well. But I am not surprised at the first-blush reaction we have received from state leaders. The price tag we've put on the table is a pretty big one. Even so, we have to continue to make the case that the state needs to deal with this important problem, and we will continue to make that case. I should point out as well that Kansas is not alone on this front. This is a national issue that we've all got to come to grips with.

Moderator:

"Crumbling colleges"
http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2006/sep/17/crumbling_colleges/

Godot:


Why are the endowment associations not required to set aside sufficient funds to maintain buildings when they raise the money to construct them?

Reggie Robinson:

Another terrific observation. The Board recognized this issue when it put together the deferred maintenance funding plan that it endorsed last fall. One very important aspect of the Board's plan is that the state universities need to set aside funding for the maintenance of any new building that it brings on-line. We know that it may not be all that attractive for donors to provide resources for that purpose, but we think that such a requirement is an important strand in a comprehensive strategy for dealing with the issue we face.

not_dolph:

Mr. Robinson - With the recent major victory, with respect to funding at the K-12 level (and the impact it will have on the state's budget), how do you intend to orchestrate a realistic campaign for a significantly higher amount (more than the K-12 amount) of funding needed to repair buildings at the 6 state university campuses...let alone the inclusion of community colleges and technical colleges which aren't owned by the State of Kansas?

Reggie Robinson:

You've accuately pointed out that we're calling for a significant investment of resources. But from my perspective, the state simply must meet its responsibility to maintain these buildings. These buildings are located on our state university campuses, but they belong to the people of Kansas. We must not permit the investments that have already been made in these assets to be frittered away because we fail to maintain them.

Regarding the inclusion of the coordinated institutions, I believe it's worth exploring whether that kind of broader proposal expands the number of partners who can join with us to help get this done.

Moderator:

Scott Rothschild reported yesterday that: "From the 2003-04 academic year to the current academic year, the average tuition and fees paid by a resident undergraduate for a 15-hour course load has increased from $1,442 per semester to $2,251. The increase at KU has gone from $1,742 to $3,076. Meanwhile, the percentage of support from the state toward the six regents universities' budget has decreased from 49 percent of the schools' budgets in 1985 to 29 percent last year. For KU, the amount of state assistance decreased from 48 percent of its total budget to 25 percent during the same period."

The question is: Given those trends, are there any concerns that we're pricing smart young Kansans out of a higher education in Kansas, because we're shifting the costs to them and their families?

Reggie Robinson:

I know that the Regents themselves have indeed expressed that concern. But there are a couple of additional points to keep firmly in mind regarding that issue. First, (and I know that many of you have heard this and may have tired of it -- but it's true) tuition in Kansas continues to be a relative bargain when compared to the tuition charged to attend comparable institutions. Second, one aspect of the tuition increases at KU and KSU that often goes unreported is that both institutions set aside 25% of the increased dollars attributable to tuition increases to support need-based student financial aid. The dollars set aside for that purpose constitute the largest single investment in such need based aid in the state's history. All that being said, we still need to ensure that access to our institutions is maintained. That's an important part of this state's public higher education tradition.

Moderator:

The current estimated cost of repairs, Regents-wide, is around $600 million. But you've got a new set of numbers from the community colleges and Washburn coming in November -- how much bigger is that number likely to grow?

Reggie Robinson:

Very good question. Unfortunately, I really don't have much of a sense, so any number I gave you would be a total guess on my part. I would offer one potentially useful observation, however. As a general rule, the community college and Washburn campuses are "younger" than the state university campuses, which suggests that the maintenance problems there might be less acute.

justthefacts:

How does spending on building upkeep and/or repairs at KU compare to spending on such things at the other regents institutions? Have any of these other institutions tried using private companies, as compared to University staff, to maintain or repair existing structures? If so, how did that work out? If not, why not?

Reggie Robinson:

Good question, justthefacts. I'm sorry, but I don't have with me the kind of specific information I need to answer that question. I could give you an educated guess, but I think I should pass. We'll try to track that down, though. Email me at my office and I'll try to get that information to you.

Moderator:

I'll make this the final question: In Scott's story, Rep. Melvin Neufeld said changes in the workplace have in many instances placed less emphasis on a college education. "The economy does not have a demand that everyone have a fine arts degree. Employers care if someone has the specialized training to do the job." Do you think his assessment was accurate? And in any case, how do you make the case for increased maintenance funding in the face of that attitude?

Reggie Robinson:

I think that higher education clearly has an important set of workplace readiness objectives. But I also think that workplace readiness goes well beyond whether someone has acquired the technical skills and training necessary to a particular job. Everything I read about what the workplace is demanding tells me that yes, we do need folks who can do whatever specialized task a particular job requires. But those seeking success in the workplace also need to know how to think, how to reason, how to communicate -- both orally and in writing. They need to know how to problem solve. And in this increasingly dynamic environment, they need, most of all, to know how to continue to learn. That kind of broad education is what a university is intended to provide, and that doesn't even get to the kind of positive transformative effect a college education can have on person -- young or not so young. It is difficult to make the case for increased higher education funding -- for maintenance or otherwise -- to an audience that has a narrower view regarding the purposes of higher eduction. But even so, it's a challenge from which we cannot shrink. I think there is a case there to be made and we have to re-double our efforts to make that case well. Thanks for your questions. Hope my answers have been responsive.

Moderator:

Thanks for the chat, Reggie.

Comments

Linda Aikins 8 years, 3 months ago

See why he would have been a GREAT Dean of the Law School!! He's a wonderful man!

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