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Archive for Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Leaders at Kansas regents universities have mixed feelings about national rankings

August 16, 2011, 4:54 p.m. Updated August 16, 2011, 5:40 p.m.

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— 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.”

Comments

Edward Coan 2 years, 8 months ago

I'm just setting here waiting for Brownback to cut all tax dollars for higher education.

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Sigmund 2 years, 8 months ago

sad_lawrencian (anonymous) says… "If you really want to make a difference, you would increase admissions standards dramatically across all six state universities (let the community and vocational colleges deal with those who don't get accepted)."

Generally I agree with your thoughts but if the KU dramatically increase standards for admissions, then the number admissions would decline reducing the amount of tax payer funding KU receives. That places larger burden on students to make up the difference in tuition hikes. Using research grants isn't working out as well as the previous administration projected, despite a large amount of resources being put there. If the number of students declines you need less faculty and staff.

KU's undergraduate program used to be highly ranked as teaching university and "good value for money." Providing a opportunity for average Kansas students to earn a respected undergraduate degree without incurring $20,000 - $50,000 in student load debt ought to be the focus. It won't be, but that is the only ranking that I wish KU would focus on.

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mutualrespect37 2 years, 8 months ago

Very thoughtful suggestions, sad Lawrencian.

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sad_lawrencian 2 years, 8 months ago

There are a lot of ways the state universities could improve, but I just don't see it happening. There's no compelling reason for them to want to be better--this is Kansas, after all, not Connecticut.

If you really want to make a difference, you would increase admissions standards dramatically across all six state universities (let the community and vocational colleges deal with those who don't get accepted). You would dramatically increase state funding for research in science and engineering. You would go out of your way to attract more women and minorities. You would dump the ACT and adopt the SAT. You would decisively end the practice of "deferred maintenance". You would invest in the successful programs at all six universities, and cut the programs that don't work. KU would be known for more than its basketball. You would see what other successful and competitive state universities are doing--and copy it. You would emphasize the factors that give Kansas' public universities their unique culture(s) and identities. You would recruit faculty and students from outside the state. You would emphasize key points (like the fact that Wichita State University's music ensembles performed this year at New York's Carnegie Hall) while downplaying the state's budget issues. You would get those magazines (like U.S. News) to notice Kansas' universities for the right reasons. Finally, at each Kansas public university, you would emphasize the traditional undergraduate, liberal-arts experience that that campus offers, and why students--and parents--should invest their time and money in Kansas. Then you'll be onto something.

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