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."