Archive for Sunday, July 6, 2008

New regents chairwoman will face economic challenges

July 6, 2008


When Donna Shank was in high school, a counselor told her that a college education was probably not a possibility.

Her grades were fine, but her financial background - her father was a truck driver - put higher education out of reach.

Shank, 51, of Liberal, said she doesn't want that to happen to anyone else.

"I don't want students to be unable to take advantage of the public higher education system because of financial obstacles," Shank said in a recent interview. "We have to be very careful that we don't privatize public education so much that we price folks out."

Shank will have some say in the cost of higher education, having recently been elected chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Regents for the second time.

Years after high school, as a married adult with children, Shank decided to get her degree. She graduated from Seward County Community College and then commuted to Wichita State University to earn her bachelor's degree at age 41.

Duane Dunn, president of Seward County Community College, has worked with Shank on several issues.

He said Shank knows what it's like for an adult to go back to school, and she knows the challenges of attending a college a long distance away.

And she and her husband, Al, raised three children, all of whom graduated from Kansas University.

"She really has a grasp of all levels of students regardless of background," Dunn said.

And, he said, she is open-minded and has excellent communications and listening skills.

"She asks good questions, rather than having a decision made before the question is asked," he said.

Shank and the regents will face several challenges this year in governing public universities, community colleges and technical schools.

The state budget picture has been worsening, and some predict a no-growth budget next year, or possibly budget cuts.

"I think we'll have to deal with economic issues. Fuel prices and food prices are hitting everybody and also hitting our institutions," she said.

Another big item on Shank's plate is the announced departure of Kansas State University President Jon Wefald, who plans to retire at the end of the next academic year. The regents will hire a replacement.

The board also is working on a strategic plan for higher education, and a task force is meeting to consider changes to university admissions requirements.

Shank and her husband own and operate Al Shank Insurance Inc.

Shank was appointed to the regents in 2002 by then-Gov. Bill Graves and reappointed to a second term in 2007 by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. She previously served as the board's chairwoman in 2005-06.

Her belief in access to higher education for all was noticeable during the recent discussion of tuition increases.

The regents approved tuition increases ranging from 5.3 percent to 7.6 percent for incoming KU freshmen. But Shank let universities know that she was unhappy with the increases.

"This year there was more concern voiced about tuition," she said. "That discussion is always most difficult. It's tough to balance the needs of the institutions with the parents and students."


justthefacts 9 years, 8 months ago

It really will be interesting to see what the Regents and Universities AND the Legislature do in the next few years. The choices appear to be (1) Shift even more of the costs for a higher education to the parents and/or persons attending the school (which makes it less available to some people and less like a public school and more like a private one) or (2) start cutting costs so that the schools can operate on the amount of money the Legislature provides (which has dramatically decreased over the years) - which could impact not only the type of teacher the universities can attract and keep, but could impact the types of jobs offered to graduates.A tough call, either way. Good luck Regent Chair Schank. You will probably need it.

Stephen Roberts 9 years, 8 months ago

Just the facts- Isn't over 1/2 of the state budget go to education? How much is enough? Maybe Kansas should raise the tax rates? How do you want to pay for the increase costs?I have an idea. Put 1 rep from everyone who wants money from the state budget in one room. Have Wesealman and Hemmingway represent Public education and higher education and put them on one side of the room and the rest on the other side of the room. Tell them that these two guys who get over 1/2 of the state budget already want more. Let them fight it out but charge admission for it. I would pay to see it.

clyde_never_barks 9 years, 8 months ago

What? No comments from ASHANK? Oh, they are in the story, I see...

Hope56 9 years, 8 months ago

Historically and presently, articles on the interent indicate that wages haven't kept up with the high credit card debt, student higher education debt, buying groceries, and paying bills. However, it is interesting that this woman was able to get herself and her children through college. In light of debt, is she affluent enough to have low debt for all these college expenses, or what amount of debt do each of her children and herself have over the next 10 - 30 years? Interesting figures that I would like to see. Politically, I am not one to get into arguments about how the U.S. government may have contributed to this. If the media article that I read about Michelle and Barack Obama was correct, their college debts were $120,000. With the publishing of two books, they no longer have higher education debts if the article was correct. Food for thought, affording college and living expenses combined with today's incomes have not kept up with costs of living. Perhaps someone in Kansas can write some books or do something to help families and students struggle with these issues, donating the proceeds as scholarships or grants for low-income families. I think the governor could hire book writers to do such things with the proceeds going to such causes. I certainly would buy such a book for such a worthy cause for Kansans. One article that I read indicated that annually 10% of Kansas high school graduates attend college. How many of these ten percent have parents that pay the entire bill? How much money would it take to assist those who are low-income to have a much lower debt? What "assistance" do we give to the other young people who are not headed for college, or is that not important? I like the comments that some of the responders address, such as "overhauling" the system. Thanks for sharing, folks.

Sigmund 9 years, 8 months ago

Kansas University is Lawrence's largest employer and the businesses here depend upon students and their parents VISA cards and government student loans to survive. Any increase in tuitions along with higher gas and food costs will hit this economy very hard. Most of the rest of the state isn't all that anxious to increase funding to KSU and KU much longer. KU had better look at reducing their staff and asking those that remain to do more. Closer to home the City Commission and City Manager had better redouble their laughable 2009 budget cutting efforts. Instead of "holding the line" they had better reel it in along with tightening their belts a few notches. City employees represent one of the single largest expenditure and the City had better look at reducing staff and asking of those that remain to work harder. The 2% cost of living and 5% merit increases needs to be cut in half if not eliminated. If you don't want to reduce staff then begin to eliminate City services (excepting fire and police) or better yet just dump the empTy. At a minimum require riders to pay 25% - 50% of the costs of the service ($2 - $4 per ride). It is time for those we have placed in positions of responsibility actually act responsible. It is time for you to earn your salaries and to the right thing instead of doing the popular thing and kicking the budget problem down the road to the next administration. That is how Lawrence got into the position it is in now.

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