Preparing to make a case for additional funding next year, the leaders of Kansas’ six state universities have come up with a strong sales pitch — not only for their own institutions but for K-12 schools as well.
Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, presidents of the state universities in Wichita, Pittsburg, Emporia and Hays and a top administrator from Kansas State had a chance to try out their appeal Thursday during a conference appropriately named “Public Education: An Investment in the Kansas Economy.” The conference was held in Lawrence and Ulysses with a telecommunications link.
The idea that higher education is an investment for the state isn’t new, but university leaders had some impressive numbers to back up that claim. Gray-Little pointed to $200 million in research funding that KU draws into the state each year. Ruth Dyer, senior vice provost at K-State, highlighted the 450 jobs and $3.5 billion of economic impact projected for the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan during its first 20 years of operation. Wichita State President Donald Beggs noted that the state’s $21 million investment in WSU research had paid off ninefold by attracting $75 million from private industry and $115 million from the federal government.
But perhaps the strongest case for making education funding a state priority came from Emporia State President Michael Lane, who explained why education is the key to the state’s recovery from the current economic recession.
“You can’t build your way out of this situation with highways,” he said. “You can’t build your way out of this situation providing Medicare. Yes, you can build your way out of this situation through education, and — to the best of my knowledge — that’s the only way out of this situation.”
Highway construction offers jobs, but only until the project is done. Funding social services provides some jobs, but not the high-paying jobs that feed the state economy. Investing in higher education fuels research and workforce development that attracts new business and expands the state’s tax base.
Take it a step further. The state can invest in building more prisons or it can invest in K-12 education that will produce a better-educated population less prone to criminal activity. It can invest more in social services or it can invest in education at all levels so that more people will have the skills to support themselves.
It’s pretty clear to see how an investment in education pays off for the state.
State Budget Director Duane Goossen, who also participated in a panel discussion at the conference, acknowledged that the university leaders “had a strong case to make” but added they would have to successfully make that case both to state legislators and the broader Kansas public to actually get the funding they seek.
The state has many funding responsibilities and, although there are signs the economy is turning around, money will continue to be tight in the coming year. Even so, university leaders are making a compelling case that money invested in education pays strong dividends for the state.