The situation at the Kansas University Medical Center is another tangible example of how financially strangling higher education hinders the economic future of the state.
KUMC officials said this week that its state funding had declined by $14.4 million since July 2008. That is about equal, they said, to the entire combined budget for the Schools of Nursing and Allied Health.
Of course, those two schools won’t be eliminated, but reductions in funding and the resulting reductions in staff are forcing the medical center to limit class sizes. So, at the same time the nation is facing a shortage of nurses and other trained medical personnel, the medical center is reducing its number of graduates in those programs.
It makes no sense, but they have no choice. KUMC officials say they have cut 79 positions from the payroll, and that many doctors who split their time between teaching and clinical work are being forced to spend more time in clinical work to maintain their incomes. Less teaching time comes full circle to less ability to maintain class sizes.
Although the Kansas Biosciences Authority provides additional funding to help recruit new faculty members, budget cuts have made it more difficult to retain top faculty members, which could impact KU’s effort to achieve a National Cancer Institute designation
State revenue cuts are having a devastating impact on all areas of higher education, but it’s particularly ironic when they hamper the graduation of medical personnel who are in such high demand across the state and nation. While other areas of the economy have shown signs of recovery, U.S. jobless rates remain high. There are jobs waiting for nurses, medical technologists and other medical personnel, but a lack of funding is hampering KU’s efforts to turn out the graduates to fill those jobs.
State legislators, who return to Topeka next month, need to recognize the relationship between higher education and the state economy and act accordingly. Eliminating some tax exemptions may be hard on some sectors of the economy, but that hardship needs to be weighed against the damage being done to the higher education programs that play such a key role in providing the research and skilled workers that are essential to the state’s economic recovery.
If legislators don’t understand how important higher education’s role is, they need look no further than KU Medical Center’s reduced ability to graduate students in high-demand medical fields.