Although state and higher education officials presumably are aware of it, many stories about the need to make repairs on community college campuses overlook a primary point: Community college campuses, unlike state university campuses, are not owned by the state.
In recent weeks, community college officials have tried to piggyback on the drive to obtain money to address delayed maintenance on state university campuses. Officials estimate it will take more than $600 million to catch up on maintenance and preserve the state's investment in its university campuses.
Although state legislators are having plenty of trouble identifying ways to fund the university repairs, leaders of the state's community colleges now are chiming in with a list of almost $150 million of needed repairs on their campuses.
In a recent Hutchinson News story, William Wojciechowski, president of Pratt Community College pleaded the community colleges' case: "I don't believe that our legislators feel as much responsibility for the capital improvements on our community campuses as they do for the universities."
He's right; they don't and they shouldn't.
Community colleges were founded by their communities to meet community needs. They are governed by local boards and their campuses are not state property. State universities were founded by the state to serve a statewide need. Their campuses and all the buildings on those campuses are owned by the state. They are the state's responsibility, period.
Community colleges serve an important higher education role in the state, but they are far more independent of the state than state universities are. They are under the coordination of the Kansas Board of Regents, but they are governed by local boards that oversee the schools and hire their presidents. Local property taxes help support those schools, but the state also provided $103 million in funding to the state's 19 community colleges last year.
Should the state and its legislators be committed to supporting community colleges? Yes, but it only makes sense that the state's commitment to locally owned and operated institutions would be different than its obligation to support state-owned university campuses.