Topeka — While fighting against the possibility of double-digit cuts in state funding, higher education advocates are also working another front — trying to persuade the Legislature to give the schools more autonomy.
At a recent committee hearing, state Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City, described it as “cutting the leash.”
Several bills in the hopper would give higher education institutions and the Kansas Board of Regents more say in the operations of the schools.
Among those are House Bill 2197, which would allow the regents to set admissions standards at state universities, and House Bill 2007, which would allow the regents to authorize higher education institutions the ability to award grants to students in the form of fellowships, scholarships and waivers of fees and tuition.
Regent Gary Sherrer, who headed a task force recommending HB 2197, said the regents are more involved in the day-to-day oversight of universities and better equipped than the Legislature to make decisions about admissions standards.
For example, Sherrer said, there is a requirement that to attend a regents institution, a student must have taken a computer class in high school. That requirement was written into state law more than a decade ago and doesn’t take into account that most students today have been learning computer skills since pre-school. The regents should have the power to jettison that computer class requirement without having to seek a change in state law, Sherrer said.
Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway said the tuition waiver bill would enable the school to “recruit students with existing family ties to our state to attend KU.” The school is seeking a program that would allow it to reduce the out-of-state tuition rate for the children of KU alumni who are living out of state.
The sought-after changes would give schools more responsibility and the ability to meet their challenges in a more timely manner, officials said.
The current qualified admission standards were placed in state law in 1996.
The law says students may be admitted to a regents university if they have graduated from an accredited high school and have either an ACT score of 21, rank in the top third of their high school class or earn at least a 2.0 grade-point average on a prescribed curriculum.
Sherrer said the qualified admission standards have served the state well, but now it is time to move on and give schools more leeway.
David Brant, who served on the task force with Sherrer, agreed, saying, “Our current system may not be broken but it certainly needs to be updated.”
The proposed measure would allow the Kansas Board of Regents to establish admission standards that could be different for each university and based on each institution’s mission.