Manhattan — More than a year after announcing a goal of becoming a top-50 public research university by 2025, officials at Kansas State University have released more details of that aspiration and a timeline for fulfilling it.
Labeled the K-State 2025 Visionary Plan, the initiative capitalizes on the federal government's plan to build the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility in Manhattan and next week's opening of the International Animal Health and Food Safety Institute as the first building on the new Olathe campus.
"We don't want a federal lab that's just in proximity to the university," university president Kirk Schulz told The Manhattan Mercury in a recent interview. "I want it so that you can't tell if that's a university employee or a Homeland Security employee."
An updated draft of the plan now available for comment by the Kansas State community includes several goals for the next five years. They include tuition waivers for all graduate research assistants; better graduation and retention rates; expanded partnerships with industry and government; and competitive compensation for faculty and staff in high-priority areas.
The plan proposes improvements in seven areas: research; undergraduate educational experience; graduate scholarly experience; engagement, extension, outreach, and service; faculty and staff; facilities and infrastructure; and athletics.
Those themes were announced earlier and drew generally positive reactions. But some panned the inclusion of athletics in a strategic plan to become a higher-profile research institution.
Schulz responds that an athletic program is often a front door to the university.
"Doing a long-term plan and not asking how athletics will get us there is not good," he told The Mercury.
Before the plan is completed and implemented this August, its financial component must be finished. Details will include competitive salaries and adequate office space for all employees, increased funding for graduate research and teaching, and high-quality, technology enabled labs and classrooms.
Schulz said Kansas State can't rely on the state to fund those enhancements in a time of bleak budgets.
"KSU is going to have to behave more like a private institution in the way we conduct our business," Schulz said. New buildings and expansions will have to come from private dollars, such as donations, grants and contracts, he said, while patents and licensing of intellectual property from research are another potential revenue sources.
The university has improved its private fundraising from $81 million two years ago to more than $100 million expected for this school year. Schulz predicts K-State 2025 will help raise more money.
"People want to give to an inspirational goal, essentially 'What mountain are you going to climb,'" he said. "They don't want to give money just because you say the state's not giving us dollars."
Ranking universities as top research institutions is an inexact science, but by several yardsticks, Kansas State is somewhere between 80th and 90th in several categories. Such rankings typically include a percentage of undergraduate students involved in research, the number of doctorates granted annually, total endowment and the number of national academy members in the faculty.
"When we set the top 50, we knew it would be a significant stretch for the institution to jump that many spots in 15 years," Schulz said. He added that he'll be satisfied if the university comes close to the top 50.
"I'm OK with that at the end because people will say it's a better place than it was 15 years ago," Schulz said. "That ultimately is the test of any kind of plan."