For me, one of the most pleasant aspects of living in Kansas is not to hear constantly whose son or daughter has been admitted to Harvard or other Ivy League schools. Except for the occasional basketball game when we play against - and usually destroy - an Ivy League team, the "Ivies" don't make the news much here. But recently, Harvard, followed by Yale and other "Ivies," has been dominating national news because it has revamped its financial aid policies to make a university education more affordable for middle class families.
At Harvard, and now at other Ivies following Harvard's lead, students and families earning less than $120,000 per year will pay virtually no tuition and students from families earning between $120,000 and $180,000 per year will be guaranteed that their costs will not exceed 10 percent of their annual income. By adopting these new policies, the Ivies are doing what the American public has been demanding for years: making college affordable once again.
The Ivies can increase financial aid so drastically because they are so rich. Business Week reported recently that Harvard University earned $5.7 billion on its endowment last year. On top of this, Harvard took in hundreds of millions of dollars in gifts and grants. This means that not only can Harvard and similarly wealthy schools increase financial aid significantly, but they can also pour hundreds of millions of dollars into research and facilities. Indeed, Harvard's new president, Drew Gilpin Faust, recently suggested that public universities, like Kansas University, simply give up doing expensive scientific research because they cannot compete with Harvard and its rich brethren.
What does this mean for public universities like KU? First of all, the idea that we should simply give up recruiting top students or doing scientific research is unacceptable. The economic and cultural survival of our state depends upon its universities providing high quality education and doing world-class research.
When one looks at our student successes and at the quality of research which we do, there can be no doubt that President Faust doesn't know what she's talking about. But one thing is clear. Schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford have vast wealth and are now aggressively using it to challenge poorer universities for students, faculty, and research staff. If Kansas is not to become a backwater, it must support its universities financially.
As the 2008 legislative session begins this week, one of the topics under discussion is the Kansas Board of Regents' request for an 18 percent budget increase, roughly $150 million. Already some legislators are saying that it is far too much to give the universities. The fact is that it's not enough. Stanford is investing $600 million in just five new science buildings. The University of Pennsylvania is spending $1 billion to build a new science complex.
KU, Kansas State, and the other regents universities in Kansas do an enormous amount of good for the state, educating its residents, serving its economy, protecting its health, pioneering new scientific and humanistic scholarship, and they do it for very little money and without frills. If Kansas is to prosper in the 21st century, it needs the full financial support of the Legislature and the residents of our state.