Kansas University will fall far short of a three-year goal set by Chancellor Gene Budig in 1990 to improve recruitment of National Merit scholars.
Budig wanted KU to rank in the top 10 among state universities with National Merit scholars. When he set the goal, KU ranked 15th. After two years, KU was 22nd.
He predicted today that KU would return to the top 20 this fall semester but wouldn't reach the top 10 because the Kansas Legislature doesn't finance scholarships for National Merit scholars.
"We could move up dramatically with assistance from the state," Budig said. "We have achieved our high position with private funds alone."
He expects KU to enroll 42 or 43 new National Merit scholars this fall, an increase of four or five from last year. To move into the top 10 would require enrollment of about 55.
"If we in Kansas are to stem the 'brain drain,' the state will have to step forward," Budig said.
A review of 1993 National Merit semifinalists showed Kansas' brightest students were seeking higher education elsewhere. Fewer than 10 percent of the state's semifinalists selected a Kansas college or university as their first choice.
Over the past five years, KU's number of new National Merit scholars has never exceeded 50. The tally: 38 in 1992; 48 in 1991; 49 in 1990; 49 in 1989; 41 in 1988.
In 1992, the highest-ranked public university in enrollment of National Merit scholars was University of Texas-Austin with 212. The best in the nation was Harvard-Radcliffe with 383.
Sandy Wick, assistant director of KU's honors program, said the university needed to offer full-ride scholarships to be competitive with other states for National Merit scholars.
"We ... can do a lot for them (academically), but we've got to get them here first," Wick said.
KU guarantees $1,300 a year to each National Merit finalist who makes KU his or her top choice. KU hasn't been able to increase that level of support through private fund raising in at least five years.
However, during that five-year period, tuition for an in-state student at KU increased from $1,100 in 1989 to $1,456 this fall.
"Students look at the bottom line," said Marti Ruel, director of KU's scholarship center.
Ruel said high-achieving students look for the best financial aid package they can find. They are drawn to universities that benefit from state-supported National Merit scholarship programs, she said.
Oklahoma has a substantial program targeted at National Merit scholars.
The University of Oklahoma attracted nearly three times the number of National Merit scholars as KU in 1992. OU's total of 118 placed it fourth among U.S. public universities.
Ruel praised the Kansas Legislature for targeting funds at minority and needy students. She also applauded Budig for his efforts to raise private scholarship funds.
However, she said, Kansas won't catch up with other states in attracting National Merit scholars without the Legislature's support.