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.