About the only question that seems to be missing from the list Kansas legislators have submitted to the state universities they plan to visit next month is: “How many staff hours did it take to complete this questionnaire — and at what cost to taxpayers?”
Leaders of both the Kansas House and Senate as well as members of both bodies’ budget-writing committees will visit all six state universities over a six-day period in October. In preparation for those meetings, legislators submitted questions to the Kansas Legislative Research Department which compiled them into a memo that was submitted to universities last week with instructions to respond “at least one week prior to October 15.”
That means the universities will have about three weeks to pull together answers to 81 detailed questions about their operations. The questions range from data all the universities likely have at their fingertips (“What is the average ACT score of incoming freshmen?”) to measurements that may be more difficult to quantify (“What is the status of kids coming to college who are not emotionally and academically ready?”)
The list includes many detailed questions about student performance and university revenue and expenditures. Legislators want to know the economic impact of patents created by the universities and how that money is used. They want to know the percentage of graduates who are employed within six months of graduation. They want to know the difference in cost of providing online vs. “brick-and-mortar instruction.”
And the list goes on.
According to a Kansas Board of Regents representative, it will be “painful” to gather all the requested information before the meetings, but that universities will do their best and are eager to “put our best foot forward.” That, of course, is the right attitude to have. This is a golden opportunity for universities to answer many of the questions that drive the funding decisions made by state legislators. They now know exactly what is on legislators’ minds and can address those issues directly.
We hope officials at Kansas University and the KU Medical Center will do their best to respond to all of the legislators questions and that the legislators will appreciate that effort and be open to information that may change their thinking on certain issues.
Any policy discussion benefits from all the parties working with the same information, the same group of facts. Too often in recent years, it seems that communication between state universities and state legislators has missed the mark, resulting in faulty assumptions and, perhaps, some poor decisions.
The questionnaire and upcoming university visits provide an opportunity to get everyone associated with funding and administering higher education in Kansas on the same page. Having those groups moving forward together would be a great gift to the state and its higher education system.