As Kansas legislators press education leaders to justify every dollar that’s spent on the state’s higher education system, it’s not enough to offer vague platitudes about how universities, community colleges and technical schools benefit both individual students and the state economy.
That’s why the Kansas Board of Regents’ goals for the current year and the rest of the decade put a heavy focus on raising standards, increasing efficiency and figuring out ways to measure important ties between higher education and the Kansas economy.
During a visit to the Journal-World last week, Regents Chairman Fred Logan and CEO Andy Tompkins explained why they are optimistic about higher education in Kansas, along with some of the board’s goals to improve post-secondary education.
Logan contends that people are voting with their dollars in support of state universities. Freshman enrollment is up, he noted, and private donor support is setting records. Tuition is a concern, he said, but, “Our tuition is very reasonable for this region.”
Nonetheless, it’s important to help university students complete their degrees as efficiently as possible. To that end, the regents institutions are continuing their efforts to make sure it’s easy for students to transfer class credits from community colleges to state universities, or vice versa, if needed. Working together, officials at universities and community colleges have established standards for more than 100 credit hours that will be accepted throughout the state’s system. By January, they expect that number to rise to 140 hours.
Another major emphasis for the regents is to tie higher education more closely to the needs of the Kansas economy. That means providing certificate, credential and university degree programs that address general workplace skills, as well as specific training needs of Kansas business, and tracking the employment and wages of those students when they enter the work force.
One of this year’s specific goals is to work with universities to connect major education and research initiatives to the Kansas economy. At the top of that list is looking at how universities and the state can capitalize on work being done at the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility at Kansas State and the National Cancer Institute at the Kansas University Medical Center.
The Board of Regents seems to be facing an uphill battle in recent years when it comes to justifying the need for more state money for higher education, but Logan said he thought recent visits to state universities by key state legislators had been beneficial in promoting better understanding and relationships between the two groups.
Time will tell whether that translates into a friendlier funding climate in the 2014 legislative session. Dollars almost certainly will be tight, and the Board of Regents and individual schools still will have to work hard to make their case that every higher education dollar will benefit the state and its residents.