Recommendations released this week in an accreditation report may open some doors for advancement at Kansas University, but they also may open the doors to some controversy.
The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Universities had lots of good news for KU in a report that recommended the school's accreditation be renewed for 10 years. The report noted KU's "commendable progress" toward improving the overall quality of its educational programs and services and credited the contribution of "excellent and sustained leadership" of top KU administrators. Other KU strengths included "a dedicated faculty and staff; a supporting Board of Regents ... and students, alumni and community residents who appreciate the value of the university."
Also on the positive side of the ledger was KU's success, as state funding has tightened, in getting relief from some state regulations. Increased private fund raising and a "creative tuition enhancement program" were other noted positives.
In a couple of areas, the accreditors noted progress but saw a need for more improvement. Although the report noted KU's improved retention of minority students, it also recommended that the university work on finding a long-term source for minority scholarship funds. And although strides have been taken to catch up on maintenance of university buildings, the report noted more than $200 million in maintenance projects still need to be addressed.
There is nothing shocking in most of the strengths and deficiencies cited in the report. However, a suggestion that KU work toward a more selective admissions policy may raise some eyebrows across the state. According to the report, "The movement towards greater selectivity in the admission of students to the undergraduate program is a significant step towards enhancing KU's stature as a premier research university serving the state of Kansas and beyond."
While it's a laudable goal to enhance KU's prestige, accomplishing that through more selective admissions may not play well in populist Kansas. It took many years for state legislators to approve even the minimal "selective admissions" standards currently in place for Kansas high school graduates. Some people also would argue that, within the state, KU already has a sometimes-detrimental reputation as the state's "elite" university. That doesn't sound bad, but it often seems to translate into an image of KU being out of touch with the needs and priorities of average Kansans.
Finding the proper balance between elite and relevant isn't always an easy job, but it's a goal KU officials must continue to pursue. The accreditation report obviously indicates the university is doing many things that should make Kansans proud and the university should continue its efforts to spread the word about those accomplishments across the state.