Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2007

Universities to compete for funding before regents

October 18, 2007

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— Kansas' higher education institutions will have to compete against one another to try to advance their budget enhancement requests to the Legislature.

The Kansas Board of Regents agreed Wednesday that the best way to present a unified budget to lawmakers was to put together a list of proposed program increases from the universities, community colleges and technical institutions.

But to get on that list, the schools will make their pitches to the regents in November, and then regents will select which ones to put in the higher education budget request.

The Legislature, which holds higher ed's purse strings, starts its 2008 session in January.

The regents already have recommended a $52 million, or 6.6 percent increase for the institutions. Of that increase, $26.8 million would be to maintain the schools current spending power, and $25.3 million would be for new programs or the "investment increase."

Reginald Robinson, the chief executive officer and president of the regents, said showing lawmakers exactly what the schools plan to do if they can get increased investment funding will help the schools win approval of those funds.

"Now the challenge is to sort of firm that up," Robinson said.

Regent Donna Shank, of Liberal, said this new process would end turf battles that have arisen when individual schools worked on their own funding projects with the Legislature.

Several university presidents voiced concern that the new process would cause lawmakers to focus on program increases, and not the schools' base budgets. They said those base budget increases - given to universities as block grants - are what help provide salary increases to professors.

But regents members said lawmakers would be more sympathetic to higher education's budget requests if there were concrete proposals on what the funding would do.

Kansas State University President Jon Wefald agreed. If program increases can be tied to improving the Kansas economy, "That's our shot at getting new money," Wefald said.

Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway said the regents and schools need to stay focused on securing the block grants from the Legislature.

"We really believe the block grant is a good way to distribute those funds," he said.

As far as next month's competition, Hemenway said, "We haven't come to any conclusions about what we would put forward to the board in November."

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