Topeka Kansas higher education officials on Wednesday recommended a $50 million increase in state funding to post-secondary schools and allowing universities to capture state sales taxes on their campuses to raise funds to help students on tuition and fees.
Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Gary Sherrer of Overland Park called the proposed "Kansas Commitment" an "amazing document."
The board approved the plan on a unanimous vote and now will lobby legislators to approve it during the session that starts in January.
During the past two years of record decreases in state tax revenue, state funding to higher education has been cut from $853 million to $751 million, a drop of more than $100 million, which is equal to 12 percent.
Under the recommended funding plan, the regents will request:
-- A $20.5 million increase in funding for inflation during the past three years.
-- Restoration of $15 million of funds that were cut from deferred maintenance of buildings and infrastructure at state universities.
-- Restoration of $750,000 in no-interest loans for deferred maintenance at Washburn University and community and technical colleges.
-- Providing $14.15 million in state funds for a systemwide program to help develop the state economy and workforce. Under this plan, universities would have to provide a $7.1 million match. Kansas University, Kansas State and Wichita State would be tasked with producing an annual increase of 490 engineering graduates, up from a five-year average of 875 graduates per year. KU Medical Center would be called on to produce more nurses and doctors.
As part of its legislative package, the regents also supported creation of a $10 million need-based student financial aid program for university students. The program would be funded by recouping $6 million in state sales taxes on purchases made on campuses, plus $4 million provided by athletic departments.
Regents' spokesman Kip Peterson said the plan is designed to help low- and middle-income students.
Kansas ranks 36th in the nation and last in the Big 12 in per capita state need-based financial aid per student, he said. Meanwhile, student debt continues to go up. In 2008, 62 percent of graduates from public universities had student loans, and the average student debt was $20,200, which is 20 percent higher than in 2004.
Peterson said a recent report shows that total student loan debt has reached $850 billion nationally, exceeding total credit card debt of $828 billion.
Under the proposal, the assistance would be available in the form of a loan to students whose families earn at or below the statewide median family income, which is currently $50,174 per year. Students who live and work in Kansas for a certain amount of time would be eligible for complete loan forgiveness. That amount of time hasn't been determined yet.
Regent Janie Perkins of Garden City said she believed the proposal would help.
"There are a lot of students out there who without this help are not going to be able," to attend college, she said.