Topeka Kansas higher education officials have received a sobering look into the future.
A new report shows that if Kansas pursues its current strategy to increase the percentage of adults with a post-secondary degree or credential, it may actually fall further behind.
"This is one of the most important public policy issues we are going to tackle this year," said Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Fred Logan of Leawood. "There is not an easy answer."
One of the regents' major goals is to increase to 60 percent the number of Kansas adults who have a certificate, credential, associate's degree or bachelor's degree by 2020.
The number now is about 53 percent.
But a report by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems shows that Kansas faces challenges in reaching its goal.
Dennis Jones, president of NCHEMS, said most of Kansas' population growth is from minorities, and the gap between the educational attainment of minorities and whites is large.
For example, nearly 30 percent of minorities have less than a high school education, while the figure for whites is less than 6 percent.
He said some minority students who would be successful in college "shoot low" and don't attend college because they come from backgrounds where family members have not gone to college.
Regents members said correcting this problem is crucial to link higher education with the state's workforce and economic development needs. Studies show that within five years, 68 percent of jobs in Kansas will require post-secondary education.
To correct this will require new student recruitment strategies, regents members said.
Regent Vice Chairman Kenny Wilk of Basehor asked Jones what he would recommend. Jones said, "If you don't tie your fiscal policy to your goal, you will never achieve your goal. You cannot jawbone your way to success."
In the last legislative session, Republican leaders cut funding to universities by $34.3 million, although Gov. Sam Brownback, who signed those cuts into law, has said he will support restoring those funds in the next session.
Regent Shane Bangert of Dodge City said getting "buy-in" of the 60 percent goal from Brownback and the Legislature will be key to getting the necessary funding to achieve the goal.
"If we can get buy-in at all levels, the funding then comes naturally," he said.