For the past several months, Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway has been encouraging members of the Kansas Board of Regents to consider a different formula for funding colleges and universities in the regents system.
Regents have approved the new funding plan, and it now is up to Gov. Bill Graves to OK the system.
Basically, Hemenway has stressed the need for a much simpler, more defensible formula that would take into account the different missions and costs of providing an education at the various state-assisted universities.
Apparently, the question of funding and justifying the level of funding is becoming a matter of concern at a growing number of state-assisted colleges and universities.
Recently, members of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education approved a major change in the way Colorado state universities will be funded. In the past, budget increases for publicly funded colleges and universities were based on a formula that took into account inflation and enrollment changes. Last year, for the first time, a portion of the budget increases for specific Colorado schools was based on performance standards.
Some of the yardsticks used in the former system included enrollment, class size, per-student spending and faculty workload at each of the state's 28 colleges and universities. The schools were compared to national standards and received a portion of their budget increase depending on how they measured up.
Albert Yates of Colorado State University, as well as other presidents, criticized the system because all schools were measured against the same national benchmarks. Yates pointed out such a system didn't take into account the differences in missions, enrollment, admission standards and budgets at the various schools.
Under the new system, called the "quality indicator system," which has been approved by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, Colorado colleges and universities will be measured against peer institutions across the nation, meaning each state university in Colorado will be measured and compared with similar institutions, not an entire national average.
Colorado's "quality indicators" are:
Four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates
Achievement scores on licensure, professional and graduate school admission and other examinations taken by seniors and graduates
Availability of general education programs
Support and success of minority students
Number of credits required for a degree
Two performance standards selected by each Colorado school.
There's no question that costs for a quality college education are going to climb in coming years. And there's little question that private financial support will play an ever-greater role in separating the regular, average, state-assisted colleges and universities from those schools that excel in their academic programs.
The way the Kansas system works now, in a very basic sense, is that KU and the other five state universities Kansas State, Wichita, Fort Hays, Emporia and Pittsburg collect tuition money and send it to the state. The state then decides what amounts will be returned to the various schools.
There is no guarantee that all tuition money collected at KU, for example, will be returned to KU. Currently, KU officials and regents ask state legislators for money for salaries and "other operating expenses" (OOE), which covers the basic costs of operating the school such as utilities and supplies.
Under the current funding system, little if anything is said about "education," the costs of providing a quality educational environment for the young men and women attending KU. Little, if anything, is said about different costs at different schools based on their missions, even though there are substantial differences in the education programs at each school.
What Hemenway and the other university presidents want is to have all tuition money returned to the schools where it is generated and for each school to be able to request and defend a "block grant" from the state. The school would be totally accountable for the tuition money, and the money appropriated through the block grants would be based on the strength of the proposals made by each university. Each school executive would make a case for his or her own particular school. It stands to reason that, after such a system gets started, regents and legislators would be watching to see just how effective and accountable the various schools have been in the use of block grant money. Those schools that meet or exceed expectations are likely to have a much more receptive audience when requesting block appropriations in subsequent years.
The proposed system will be far simpler than the present operation, and it will eliminate the "cookie cutter" approach that has been the norm over past years. Each school is different; each school has special needs and costs.
Hopefully, if Hemenway's plan is approved by the governor, Kansans can look forward to a more cost-effective manner of operating the state-assisted schools. A system where excellence and vision will be rewarded, where the young men and women of Kansas will have access to even better schools and where Kansas taxpayers are getting maximum use of the tax dollars that are allocated to higher education.