Topeka Student leaders at Kansas University and the other five regents schools are seeking answers from the major political party candidates for governor on their commitment to higher education.
In a letter sent to Republican Sam Brownback and Democrat Tom Holland, the students have asked whether the candidates will publicly support the $50 million “Kansas Commitment” that the Kansas Board of Regents recently approved.
“The ‘Kansas Commitment’ is a much-needed and vitally important step towards reinvesting in our higher education system,” said a letter sent by Michael Wade Smith, the KU student leader and his five colleagues representing Kansas State, Wichita State, Emporia State, Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State.
The plan would provide $20.5 million to cover the rate of higher education inflation over the past three years, restore $15.75 million that had been cut from maintenance and repairs of buildings, and allocate $14.15 million targeted at increasing graduates in high-demand fields. The plan also supports starting a $10 million student financial aid program that would be funded through recouping state sales taxes on purchases made on campuses, and athletic department funds.
The student leaders said the plan is needed, in part, to help offset record budget cuts of more than $100 million in state funding to higher education during the past two years.
“Investment in higher education can provide real and tangible results in strengthening our economy,” the student leaders said. “Increasing the number of skilled graduates in high demand fields and increasing opportunities for lower and middle income students to attend college will undoubtedly produce tremendous results for the entire state.”
Holland, the Democratic candidate for governor, said he supports adding funds to higher education. He said that could be accomplished as the economy improves and by establishing a commission that would recommend the closure of sales tax exemptions to the Legislature.
Holland’s spokesman, Seth Bundy, said Holland also would like to see a solid connection between the $50 million plan and a long-range strategic plan approved by the regents.
That plan, called Foresight 2020, calls for specific improvements to higher education and sets deadlines to achieve those goals.
For example, by 2020, the plan calls for Kansas to achieve a 10 percentage point increase in first- to second-year retention rates across the higher education system. The plan also says the regents will identify by June 2011 benchmarks of excellence in comparison to peer institutions and establish goals to increase regional, peer and national rankings.
Brownback's campaign responded with a statement from campaign spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag. She said, "One of the top priorities of Senator Brownback’s Road Map for Kansas Education is to stabilize funding for higher education so our public universities and community colleges remain strong to power a robust 21st century Kansas economy.
"As a former KSU Student Body President, Senator Brownback thinks it’s great the student body presidents are advocating for their fellow students. He looks forward to working with them and the Kansas Board of Regents should Kansas voters elect him as their next governor."