Topeka Kansas University walked away a winner from a special meeting of the Board of Regents on Monday.
Three proposed KU programs received the board's endorsement and will be brought to the Kansas Legislature as part of the pitch for about $17 million in new higher education funds next year. All told, the three programs add up to $6.5 million next year and about $10.5 million over the next three.
The programs include expansion of the School of Pharmacy, expansion of programs in health sciences, accounting and engineering, and the creation of a program to allow those with degrees in math or
science fields to simultaneously earn teaching certificates.
"I think they were good proposals," said KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway. "KU put together good proposals that are meant to face some of the major person-power shortages that are facing state government."
None of the programs the regents endorsed Monday has funding yet. They will be included as examples of how the university would use new funds in the upcoming fiscal year. If legislators deliver some of the new funds, but not all, the regents would then determine how to divide the money.
If they don't appropriate all the funds the regents have requested, "I think they'll tell us 'This is our No. 1 priority and our No. 2 priority is this. Do what you want with the rest of the money,'" regents chairwoman Christine Downey-Schmidt said.
In addition to the KU proposals, the regents also approved a program to increase math and science teachers at Emporia State, to create a School of Construction at Pittsburg State, to expand a work-based learning program at Wichita State and to expand the number of Kansans with advanced science degrees through a Fort Hays State program.
Kansas State, however, was nearly shut out of the regents' investment package. The board did not agree to include K-State's targeted research funding until they agreed to a two-year trial at a 40 percent funding level, rather than the five-year commitment K-State sought.
And even then, the vote was only 5-3 in favor, whereas all the other investments passed with unanimous support of the eight members present.
"The onus is on the institutions to say whether this is a critical need," regent Donna Shank said. "I picked the proposals that I thought were the most critical and that made the best case for why we should support them."
Shank, joined by regents Jill Docking and Dick Hedges, voted against the K-State proposal. Shank and Docking said they were disappointed in the level of justification K-State provided in its proposal.
"There's not one of us who doesn't want to give all the universities everything they want," Docking said. "But I don't think we want to walk across the street (to the Legislature) without being able to say we really selected the proposals that were most appropriate."
Hemenway said KU would now prepare to make the case to lawmakers for the KU programs as important to the future of the state.
"We're pleased with the endorsement from the regents," he said. "But you always have to make your case to the Legislature."
In addition to the investment proposals, the regents also agreed to seek an overall 5 percent increase in existing higher educational funds.
"I feel the (inflationary increase) is more important than the focused investments," Docking said. "Conceptually, the increase is a deferred maintenance on human capital that I've heard about over 10 years that I've sat on a number of boards at various universities."
The 5 percent represents the 3.4 percent rate of inflation in higher education and a 1.6 percent increase to help the universities bridge gaps that exist between their salaries and those of peer institutions.
"It reflects the fact that for a long time, Kansas salaries and resources were constrained," Hemenway said.
If the Legislature comes through with an increase, the regents made clear that they expected tuition increases to be minimized.
Hemenway said the four-year guaranteed tuition kept increases from affecting 5,500 current students and KU already has taken steps to curtail tuition increases to the minimum level after five years of double-digit increases.
When including new deferred maintenance funds, investments and inflationary adjustments, the regents institutions are seeking about $155 million in new funds. About $85 million would be for deferred maintenance.