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Opinion

Opinion

KU numbers tell troubling story

October 19, 2011

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The sources and percentages of funding at Kansas University in 2010, published by the Journal-World on Monday, tell many important stories about the university. The most obvious to the general reader is the fact that, overall, tuition dollars account for 20 percent of total revenues and state appropriations account for 22 percent. At the Lawrence campus, however, tuition revenues generated $248 million as opposed to $134 million in state appropriations. This means that, at the Lawrence campus, tuition revenues were almost twice the amount of the state appropriation.

Even more important, tuition and state appropriations, combined, provided less than half of total revenues universitywide. The remaining revenues came from contracts and grants, sales and service income, and gifts. Since many of these revenue sources are restricted in how they may be used, the actual amount of unrestricted income available to the university is significantly lower than total revenues. This is not a good thing.

Restricted revenues, especially those that may be used for research, are beneficial to the university. Research dollars can help pay faculty salaries, graduate student stipends, physical plant costs, and many other important expenses. But if one believes that the core obligation of a university like KU is education, particularly undergraduate and professional education, then the most important revenue sources are tuition, state appropriations, and gifts that may be used for the educational mission.

As research dollars increase, they certainly serve the research mission of the university and contribute to the reputation of the university and, in many instances, the economic impact of the university on the state. But they do not necessarily make a great contribution to the teaching mission of the university.

The story that the 2010 revenue numbers tell that I find most significant is that the teaching mission of the university is increasingly underfunded. If the university is going to continue to educate the young people of Kansas then this situation needs to be highlighted and reversed.

It seems to me that the governor and the Legislature have placed their focus more and more on research output at KU rather than teaching. Even the current chair of the Kansas Board of Regents has expressed public concern that too little attention is being placed on the basic teaching mission of state universities. While special appropriations to programs like engineering are useful, funding restricted to these programs again do not help the overall teaching mission at KU.

The 2010 revenue figures should be a warning to every Kansan that the excellence in educating undergraduates and professional students, on which KU prides itself and which all citizens take for granted, is in peril. The numbers also reveal that there are two funding sources that need to increase: tuition, and taxes to fund greater state appropriations. Raising tuition increases the burden on students and their families and may put a university education out of reach of many of them. Raising taxes, while it spreads the financial burden, is a political bombshell and seems unlikely in the current political and economic climate.

Whatever solution is chosen, something must be done. The numbers don’t lie.

Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.

Comments

bendover61 3 years, 2 months ago

Cut programs/spending. There is 1.5 Billion in the endowment fund, use it. I'm sure the athletic department would be glad to help out. Raising tuition will cause enrollment to drop.

urthlvr 3 years, 2 months ago

Endowment money is restricted. It can only be used for what the donor stipulated. If the donor gives money to be used as a scholarships for students with purple polkadots, then that is what we have to abide by. Athletcis Corp. is an afiliate corporation and their money is separate from KU proper.

Bob Reinsch 3 years, 2 months ago

Is this about teaching or targeted need? What does our society need? Today, we need more engineers working to solve problems. We need pharmaceutical chemists curing the world's diseases. The School of Education has also received very sizable research grants (irony?). These are the focii of research dollars today, and the fact is that the top researchers at KU are also among the best educators at KU as well. KU's mission is teaching, and the research performed by the gifted educators at KU supports that mission. The idea that it distracts from teaching is a big pile of the stuff they research in the barns 100 miles west.

Peter Macfarlane 3 years, 2 months ago

What you say is true enough, but these engineers, pharmacists, and other professionals need skills not taught by their respective departments and schools. Problem solving ability is needed, but it does not do any good if the engineer can't write or communicate his/her solution. Likewise, chemists would be poorly trained if they could not figure out the proportions of reactants needed to make chemical reactions work to produce the drugs and other items we need.

The point is there are more skill sets needed to produce the qualified individuals we need to advance our society through the 21st century than you might think.

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