Archive for Sunday, May 30, 2010

KU country?

Understanding the challenges Kansas University faces in western Kansas is the first step.

May 30, 2010


It didn’t take Kansas University’s new chancellor long to figure out one thing about KU and its relationship with Kansas.

Speaking last week to a local Rotary Club, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said she had noticed that once she got past the middle of the state, people started to tell her KU didn’t do a good job of recruiting, not as good as “another Kansas institution,” presumably Kansas State University. People in the western half of Kansas also told her that they didn’t see their area as “a KU part of the state.”

“I not willing to concede that there’s any part of the state that isn’t a KU part of the state,” Gray-Little told the Rotarians.

That’s good news on two counts. First, less than a year into her term as chancellor, Gray-Little has gotten out into the state enough to hear western Kansas residents talk about KU. Second, she apparently was listening to what they said.

It’s certainly not news that western Kansas has closer ties to K-State than to KU. Agricultural areas have a natural tie to K-State Extension programs. K-State is about 80 miles west of KU and more geographically accessible to the western part of the state. And there’s simply a feeling that K-State cares more about the rural, western parts of the state. The reputation of KU as “Snob Hill” is alive and well, especially west of Wichita.

The situation is made worse by reports that K-State is far more attentive to the western part of the state when it comes to recruiting prospective students. KU is all over Johnson County, but top students in western Kansas too often feel overlooked.

Although KU supplies a high percentage of the state’s doctors and is reaching out to the state in other ways, the university simply hasn’t done a good job of convincing the people in western Kansas that KU is important and relevant to their lives. That hurts KU in many ways. Not only does it miss out on good students and alumni support in the western half of the state, it also can affect the reception KU proposals receive in the Kansas Legislature.

Gray-Little also told Rotary members of university plans to seek higher admissions standards for KU. The hope is that raising the standards will mean that Kansas students are more likely to stay in school and complete degrees. It makes some sense for both the students and the university, but the chancellor may have her work cut out for her as she tries to sell that idea to western Kansas students, parents and legislators — especially if K-State tuition and admission standards are lower than KU’s.

It’s good that Gray-Little is listening and gaining understanding about the different attitudes toward KU from across the state. We hope she’s successful in raising KU’s profile and support not only in Johnson County but west to the Colorado border.


7texdude 7 years, 11 months ago

If there are no KU supporters in western Kansas, how do you explain the tremendous suppot at CU games? Don't the Jayhawks get an additional "home" game when they play at "Allen Fieldhouse West?"

Bill Lee 7 years, 11 months ago

A lot of KU alums have moved to Colorado. It's a numbers game. There are more KU alums living in Denver than there are in Colby or Garden City.

jhox81 7 years, 11 months ago

You make some great points on the struggle of convincing western Kansas students, parents, and legislators that increased admission standards are good for KU and Kansas.

However, I'm going to go out on a limb and say I know more about western Kansas than you do because I spent 20 years of my life there. The only time I hear "snob hill" is when someone at KU or in Lawrence uses the term. The term is dead, not "alive and well" in western Kansas. People like you keep the term alive on this end of the State. The Chancellor does mention the recruiting issues in western Kansas, but in the same breath she says she is told KU is much more visible - a point you convienently leave out. You might look to your Alumni Association to educate yourself on what they are doing to create a KU friendly atmosphere out west.

When allocating limited resources from a recruiting standpoint, where does it make more sense to put those resources? Does it make more sense to heavily recruit western Kansas where the alumni and student population is severly dwindling by the day or KU fertile recruiting grounds like Chicago, Denver, St. Louis, Dallas? These are areas that also contribute to KU's national profile.

KU and KSU roughly have the same number of recruitment staff members - the difference is KSU spends the majority of its time in Kansas. They are both solid Universities and serve the citizens of Kansas well. In saying that, KU is an AAU instituion because of its research and graduate programs. It has much more of a national reach and needs to be positioned to attract the best Kansas students who often times use KU as a back up plan if they don't get into schools like North Carolina, Michigan or Texas. Schools like Texas and North Carolina got to where they are by being progressive and establishing tough standards....not by being tied to schools like Texas Tech or North Carolina State in a "we have to keep everything even" attitude.

KU shouldn't be compared to KSU. They are very different and will always be. KU should be looking at what UT, UNC, Michigan, and other AAU institutions are doing - that approach sets the bar high.

Maybe if you find a balance of constructive criticism rather than your weekly rants, you might be taken more seriously. You gripe about what KU should be doing and you gripe about the capital campaign, and you gripe, and gripe and gripe. How about highlighting some of the positive things going on at KU from time to time.

Its hard to be positive, even as a proud alum right now with the current ticket situation, but there are so many great things going on at KU that never receive attention.

Robert Rauktis 7 years, 11 months ago

Past Hays begins the "great American desert" according to the lore of the 19th century. Restricted rain from the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Different environment with a different culture. Little wonder that such a rural produces a completely different culture and mind set. When the pundits, both the nationals and locals, learn not project their values, whether conservative or liberal, urbane or "sticks", white, black, pink, family, Christian, heathen...whatever, the world will make more sense.

Of course, these people will need to have lived somewhere else.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 11 months ago

This editorial deals with the single most critical failure KU has experienced over the last three decades, which is its relationship with the Kansas legislature. It hasn't helped KU that far too many people associated with the university have appeared to view themselves as superior to Western Kansans, which shows in many ways - for example, the arrogant, misplaced pride in being an "island of blue in a sea of red" frequently expressed by too many Lawrence residents has not helped KU with those who appropriate the money in order for KU to function as a flagship university. On another front, if the editorial writer thinks that KU owns Johnson County, she is sadly mistaken. There are Power Cat license plates all over Johnson County, and many successful K-State alumni live there.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 11 months ago

As the state funding for KU continues to fall, why should KU recruit in places that do not give a great return for the investment?

There are a few loud, angry western Kansans, but there are many people in urban and suburban Kansas and in surrounding states that KU is and should be targeting over those in western Kansas who do not want to drive mor than 20 miles to go to school.

The legislature problem will eventually take care of itself. The population in western Kansas is shrinking. The gerrymandering by the state legislature means that the political districts will be slower to change, but eventually they will.

By continually restricting state funds to KU, the legislature has forced KU from being an institution with a mission to serve all Kansans to a capital-driven, free-enterpise institution.

How can anyone, let alone capitalists, criticize KU for trying to maximize the return on its investments?

topeka411 7 years, 11 months ago

The Kansas Legislature wholeheartedly embraced KU's recent plan to expand its school of pharmacy. This is just one of several examples of the university strengthening its reach to assist rural Kansas. It has also recently unveiled plans to expand its physician training program in Salina and it has been working with legislative leaders to attract a substantial, international research program to far western Kansas. The KU endowment association just last week held its board meeting in Garden City and the growth of activity among KU alumni association chapters in rural communities is substantial. All of these examples (and there are plenty more) underscore the fact that the Chancellor's sentiments about serving western Kansas seem to be in operation daily at KU.

J Good Good 7 years, 10 months ago

I certainly see a lot more kids from where I grew up in the western part of the state coming to KU than I did 20 years ago. And the non-farming population has dropped at the same time, so I think KU has made real progress.

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