Archive for Wednesday, June 11, 2008

State shares tuition blame

June 11, 2008


I believe that tuition at the Kansas Board off Regents universities is too high and that the annual increases students and their families are being asked to bear are insupportable in the current economy. At a time when the very basics of life are becoming harder to afford for Kansas families, every dollar increase in university tuition puts an unacceptable burden on those who want to better themselves through education.

Having said this, however, I do not believe that the majority of blame for our frequent and often high tuition increases lies primarily with the universities. Instead, it lies with the Kansas Legislature, with the politicization of higher education in Kansas, and with the public's increasing expectations of what a university can provide for its students and the state as a whole.

It is far too easy for politicians and the general public who do not spend much time at the universities or study closely the universities' budgets and expenditure totals to blame rising tuition on there being too much "fat" at the schools. I have been at KU for 14 years. I have seen very little waste and no "fat" to speak of.

Indeed, what I see is a large number of faculty and staff whose salaries are significantly below market, buildings that are in an advanced state of disrepair for lack of funds to maintain them, library and technology budgets far too small to provide cutting edge technology for research and teaching. Indeed, what I see, generally, is students, faculty and staff making the best of perpetually inadequate resources.

A decade ago the Kansas Legislature seems to have decided that it simply did not want to continue to fund adequately the needs of the regents universities. Instead of accepting the difficult task of taking the political heat for maintaining the quality of our state university system, the Legislature decided to shift the burden of maintaining adequate funding to the universities. In this way they were able to lower taxes and claim to be fiscally conservative.

Of course, the Legislature knew exactly what it was doing. There are only two ways for the universities to raise funds: through gifts and grants and through tuition. During the past decade KU ran a successful, major fund-raising effort. One can certainly argue that more must be done on the fundraising side, but in a weak economy in which both grants and gifts are harder to come by, there are limits to what can be brought in. This leaves only tuition.

At the same time that a greater share of the burden of funding universities has been shifted from the Legislature to the universities, both the Legislature and the general public have increased their expectations for what the universities can and should do. The state universities are no longer - if they ever were - solely teaching institutions. They are also high level research institutions working on such things as curing cancer, improving the lives of autistic children, increasing the supply of oil from domestic wells, measuring the thickness of polar ice, and curing diabetes, to name just a few of the ongoing projects at KU alone.

Students and their parents want more and more campus services and facilities - better and more technologically advanced classrooms and broader course offerings, for instance. And we shouldn't forget athletics. Kansans want winning teams - which they've been getting. All of this costs money, lots of money.

Is there a solution to the problem of rising tuition? Of course, there is. We could cut back our expectations as a state. We could decide that we'll settle for mediocrity or even less than mediocrity. We could decide not to teach some subjects and let those students who want to learn these subjects go across the border to Missouri to do so.

We could decide to give up research and become an economic backwater. We could cut back on the quality of the agricultural extension service or the medical school, even if it means our farmers lose crops and people die unnecessarily. I don't think most Kansans want this.

The other alternative is to continue on as we are currently, i.e. to continue to raise tuition to the point where a university education becomes unaffordable for most Kansans. I hope sincerely, for the sake of future generations of Kansans that we don't follow this route.

There is a third alternative solution. I think it's time for our political leadership to make some hard political and fiscal choices. They need to look at higher education in Kansas, set appropriate goals for higher education, establish a realistic budget for higher education, and then keep to it.

To me it is absolute hypocrisy for politicians to complain about increasing university tuition in Kansas when so much of the reason for these increases lies with our political leaders' unwillingness to make the tough choices. If we, as Kansans, truly believe in making public education available for everyone, then we must recognize that funding such education is a public burden and not to be placed only on the students alone.

- Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.


Bubarubu 9 years, 10 months ago

Easy_Does_It:"Oh yes Reputation is the thing, always and above all else reputation. the reputation puzzle would be solved and we could move on to something tangible like - yes your kid can actually go to school here because the fees are not out of reach. Even for those middle-class middle-management types' kids, Yuk"To be clear, I have no trouble with middle-class, middle-management. That's the household I came out of with pride. But to imply that the purpose of a university education is never more than that is provincially short-sighted. And yes, reputation does matter. People get hired or not based, in part, on the strength of whatever accreditations they have on their resumes. One of the economic functions of a university is an accreditor for graduates. When someone leaves KU or KSU with a diploma, it functions partly as a statement from the school that this person has learned enough and done enough to be qualified in a certain way. If the school has a poor reputation, that statement is weaker. That's why those businesses Godot says we need to attract like to go places with strong higher ed. Reputation counts and don't ever doubt that.But then what of cost? Well, if you don't want to pay tuition (which is still below the average for KU's peer institutions), and you don't want to pay taxes, how do you expect to get the thing? svengalli notes that 60-70% of the state budget goes to ed. Actually, the number is about 45% of the total state budget. That number, however, does not include higher ed, only K-12. The state spends almost 6 times as much on K-12 as on higher ed. No one's saying to cut K-12 education funding (please God), but if the money isn't in the state budget it has to come from somewhere.And again, that elitist is some sort of slur against those with advanced education is simply unbelievable,

Mike Hoeflich 9 years, 10 months ago

Raising taxes is not necessarily the answer. Reallocating the tax dollars which the state already receives is, at least in my opinion. The Legislature's job is to set priorities in spending. My question is simple: where on the Legislature's list of priorities does higher education belong? My impression is that it's fairly low on the list. That's what I object to. The Legislature seems far more interested in funding other activities and cutting corporate taxes even further instead of maintaining educational quality in the state. I would be opposed to raising taxes generally precisely because this, like tuition increases, puts too great a burden on Kansans.As far as Athletics doing well; they are. But they do well because people seem to value the entertainment from athletics more than they value the core educational mission of the university and they donate their money to athletic programs. That, too, is a question of priorities.As for my elitism, I wonder where that comes from? Not from me. I live in rural Douglas County; neither of my parents had college degrees, and I grew up in a two bedroon apartment in NYC shared with my parents, two sisters and a brother. I went through college and grad. school on scholarships and by working at two jobs. I gave up a quite lucrative position at a private university in NY to come to teach at Kansas because I believe in public education and because I like Kansas and its people. And that's why I've stayed here. If it is elitist to want everybody to have a chance at a great educational experience regardless of how much money they have, then I guess I'm elitist. And proud of it.

Tony Kisner 9 years, 10 months ago

Education in and of itself doesn't make one an elitist, just ones thoughts and actions. Elite is a label which when applied to others is a complement, but when claimed for oneself is simple arrogance.Reread my comments and those of others who might be of like mind. It is the continual request for funding based on soft ideas wrapped up in language like reputation which after time ring false especially when measured against other requirements such as food and shelter for tax paying families.If KU really wants more funding in order to elevate the lives of Kansans I think they should bring more to the game than simple language such as "other people are doing it, so should we." Just as Mike probably does in his class room the Board of Regents, Legislature and me a tax and tuition payer will challenge his argument and listen for a good defense. I believe Kansans for the most part listen very well, and make good decisions based on what they hear, including building and funding several State institutions like KU. So we are listening and deciding but funding for funding sake is hard to gather in, equate it to value including Access to these public universities and your voice may be heard.When donors come to KU with $10 MM for a new football building perhaps some of that money could have been targeted for education had the purposes and resulting benefit had been better defined by the administration.

MattressMan 9 years, 10 months ago

I understand the needs to fund higher education and support for state schools. Why shouldnt the supporters/users of these schools be somewhat more responsible in supporting the schools as well. But why shouldnt the students have to pay more for the education they desire? Why shouldnt the alumni be expected to support their alma mater so that it remains competitive and respected? Why shouldnt the endowment have to use their funds for the betterment of the university or lowering of tuition? State taxpayers should maintain and fund universities as they do but to b*tch and moan about the tuition rates, poor professors and their salaries, poor facilities etc grows tiresome for the blue collar workers in this state. Perhaps proffessor, you and your faculty partners would be willing to take a cut in pay for the betterment of the university. OH, didnt think so, you shouldnt have to do that when there are taxpayers with nothing better to do with their money."Students and their parents want more and more campus services and facilities" BOOHOO You want to learn and broaden your horizons you should be willing to pay for it.

Godot 9 years, 10 months ago

The legislature needs to cut corporate taxes even further to make Kansas more attractive as a place to do business.Professor Hoeflich conveys the message that those in government view private citizens' property as the government's property, and that allowing citizens to keep any portion of it for personal use is a gift. That is disturbing, in the least.

SettingTheRecordStraight 9 years, 10 months ago

It's easy for Mr. Hoeflich, who receives much of his salary from tax payers, to call for more money from tax payers. Perched upon an academic ivory tower, his mantra of "more money, more money" is tired and old, and it would be amusing if its implications did not bear directly upon families' pocketbooks. Sorry, Mike, but we don't need more elitists like you telling tax payers that government needs more of our money.

Bubarubu 9 years, 10 months ago

God, you guys are totally right. I mean, no one has ever benefited from cancer research or a strong pharmacy program. People also have never benefited from a deeper understanding of foreign cultures or literature either. I mean, seriously, the goal of a university education should be to give people only the immediate skills they need to go get a middle-class, middle-management job. All of this other stuff like broadening their horizons, giving them critical thinking skills, staffing agriculture extensions, and curing disease, that's just liberal elitism.Strong universities mean strong economies, period. The state has consistently lowered its level of support for higher education even as the institutions of higher ed have made their use of state money that much more efficient. What a pathetic place we have come to when education makes one elite and being elite is somehow an insult. With that mindset (in a college town , no less), it's no wonder KU's reputation isn't stronger.

deskboy04 9 years, 10 months ago

I think that KU is doing really well. They are building lots of new athletic facilities.

Tony Kisner 9 years, 10 months ago

Oh yes Reputation is the thing, always and above all else reputation.What if the state funded a plaque indicating that KU indeed has a great reputation? Kind of like what the wizard did for the scare crow. (Or for example declaring that you are part of the elite and that being elite is indeed by definition better than for example middle-class).Then the reputation puzzle would be solved and we could move on to something tangible like - yes your kid can actually go to school here because the fees are not out of reach. Even for those middle-class middle-management types' kids, YukWhat is the mission of a State funded school when there are multiple options available that are not funded by the State? Why would the collective make a decision to tax themselves when they would not otherwise need to? Access.

Godot 9 years, 10 months ago

Prof. Hoeflich, you said this, "The Legislature seems far more interested in funding other activities and cutting corporate taxes even further instead of maintaining educational quality in the state."I apologize for expanding your view that cutting corporate taxes is less important than funding government programs into my statement about government officials viewing private property as their own. But, in a way, hearing you, a government employee, say that it is wrong to cut taxes because it would not allow your agency to expand is pretty much that same thing.I woke up this morning listening to NPR and hearing Obama say that tax breaks are "giveaways," and it stuck in my craw. Tax breaks means the government takes less of what people and corporations earn. To call them a "giveaway," assumes that the money was the government's to give in the first place.That just stuck in my craw, and your statement about cutting corporation taxes reminded me of it.Sorry.

Tony Kisner 9 years, 10 months ago

Hoeflich - "We could cut back on the quality of the agricultural extension service or the medical school, even if it means our farmers lose crops and people die unnecessarily"Mike, what a hoot. Reminds me of the cover on National Lampoon where a gun is held up to a dog's head with the tag line "Buy this magazine or we shoot this dog"Set_The_Record is spot on. Educators use words like mediocrity, backwater or "People will Die" to justify their desire for more funding. Words are not actions and you can only go to the well so often. Mike and KU need to directly link the soft value of research to value derived by the Kansas tax payer and Kansas parent paying the fees.With the softening economy those entities not delivering will feel the pinch first, Emporia State, Ft. Hays, Pittsburg stand to gain. KU will first look to a winning basketball and football team as its selling points but delivering a decent education at accessible price points will be what parents and taxpayers look for first, and then simply buy a KU t-shirt and call it good.

Godot 9 years, 10 months ago

There is a fourth option. I got the idea from Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-California.If the universities cannot guarantee that the cost of tuition will go down, the state could be "all about socializing, uh, uh, will be about,,,, uh, taking over and running" the endowment associations to help fund the univerisity with the goal of cutting tuition to zero for Kansas students.If the Dems think they can nationalize the oil companies, there is no doubt a state can do the same thing with a tax-exempt endowment association.

Mike Hoeflich 9 years, 10 months ago

Svengali: Your bet would be wrong. Not only do I not treat this column as part of what I do for the university, I also don't get paid for writing it by the LJW. Godot: The message you attribute to me is yours not mine. I have never and would never say what you attribute to me.

Phillbert 9 years, 10 months ago

I see someone has been using the KC Star's salary lookup - a very useful tool.What that database doesn't say, however, is that a significant portion, if not a majority, of the professor's salary is probably funded through grants and endowments, and not entirely by tax dollars or tuition dollars. That's how it is with most distinguished professorships.And if you want something on the benefits of having good universities beyond vague references to reputation, they're not that hard to find:

Commenting has been disabled for this item.