Pittsburg Higher education officials Tuesday wrestled with the concept of rankings — expressing the need for Kansas public universities to increase their national stature, but at the same time not wanting to tailor all their efforts to comply with cookie-cutter standards.
The discussion occurred during a three-day retreat of the Kansas Board of Regents held on the campus of Pittsburg State University.
Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, and his predecessor Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, have stated regents schools need to improve in national academic rankings.
Regent Kenny Wilk of Lansing asked what rankings should policymakers focus on. “I kind of liken this to tax policy,” said Wilk, a former legislator. “When I chaired the tax committee, I could find a study to support any position.”
Several university presidents said while the rankings, such as those done by U.S. News & World Report, are important, they needed to be kept in perspective. In the magazine’s 2010 report, Kansas University was ranked 47th among national public universities, and K-State ranked 66th.
K-State President Kirk Schulz said KSU’s goal is to become a top 50 school among public research universities. But, he added, “so much of the rankings are qualitative in nature.”
Schulz said school officials have drafted a plan to improve in several key areas, including research, graduation rates and faculty.
Fort Hays State University President Ed Hammond said Kansas schools should focus on how many graduates the schools producing and if those graduates are getting jobs in their fields of study.
“We have to figure out how to get more Kansans credentialed in areas that will help the state,” he said.
Hammond said that will help the state more than getting a higher ranking from a national magazine. But he also said the state doesn’t have the luxury of ignoring the rankings either.
Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little agreed, saying universities must be sensitive to national rankings while also focusing on specific needs of their schools.
“I don’t think we can get away from the national rankings process,” she said. But, she added, “There is certainly a danger in doing things solely for rankings. You do things to enhance your programs.”