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Archive for Sunday, June 27, 2004

Funding fairness

Legislation to coordinate the state’s higher education efforts has created a serious funding inequity between universities and community colleges.

June 27, 2004

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It's good that at least one member of the Kansas Board of Regents is focusing on the funding inequities created by the legislation that brought vocational schools, community colleges and state universities under the same governance umbrella in 1999.

The two major legs of that legislation were commitments to raise funding for faculty salaries at the state's six universities and to provide property tax relief for cities and counties that were supporting community colleges. The property tax relief was a key element to gain support from the many legislators with community colleges in their districts.

Last week, Regents Chairman Janice DeBauge of Emporia pointed out how this funding formula has played out. The funding the regents are required to request to fulfill the promise of the legislation amounts to more than half of the additional $145 million being requested for higher education this year. DeBauge noted that the formula was leading to a 17 percent increase in funding for technical schools, 38 percent for community colleges and only 10 percent for the state's universities.

Through the years, the impact shows, especially when funding to those schools is compared to funding for their peers in other states. Operating funds received by Kansas University equals 85 percent of the funding of its peers, while community colleges in Kansas have funding that is 105 percent of their peers.

This was not -- or at least shouldn't have been -- the intent of the Higher Education Coordination Act. Community colleges and technical schools play an important role in the state by allowing many students to begin work on a four-year degree and by providing training for students who don't wish to pursue university diplomas. They are good workers, well-qualified to fill many jobs that help drive the state's economy.

But funding community colleges should not come at the expense of dragging down Kansas universities. This subject becomes particularly important as tuition rates at state universities continue to rise. In the current academic year, a KU student taking 15 hours is paying tuition and fees of $2,050 or $136 per hour of credit. At Coffeyville Community College students pay tuition and fees of $42 per credit hour.

At the same meeting at which DeBauge voiced her concern about funding inequities, the Board of Regents approved an 18 percent increase in KU tuition for next year. In addition to that base increase, the university also has approved various special fees requested by certain departments and schools.

It's certainly possible to argue that it should cost more to attend KU than to attend Coffeyville Community College, but the gap is too wide and, under the current funding formula, is getting wider all the time.

The major goal of the Higher Education Coordination Act was to give the Kansas Board of Regents control of the state's post-secondary educational system so it could reduce duplication of services and tailor programs to the needs of the entire state. The irony is that the funding mechanisms included in the act have tied the regents' hands on an important aspect of how funds are distributed to various educational institutions.

It's good that regents are talking about this inequity but, especially in the current legislative climate, influenced by fiscally conservative legislators who want to preserve funding for the community colleges in their districts, the hope for correcting the situation, unfortunately, seems remote.

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