Is it time for someone or some group to consider the possibility of changing the way Kansas Board of Regents universities are managed?
Recently, a highly knowledgeable Kansan with distinguished experience in government and education endeavors pointed out to this writer that the general public doesn’t realize the state doesn’t provide the majority of the funding to operate the state’s public universities.
Consider what has happened over the past 10 years to state funding for Kansas University, supposedly the state’s “flagship” and most important school.
In 2003, the state of Kansas provided 27 percent of KU’s operating budget. Today, the state provides 17.6 percent of the university’s operating fund.
In 2003, tuition funds provided 21 percent of the university’s operating funds. This year, tuition dollars account for 32.4 percent of those funds.
This writer did not obtain dollar figures for the state support in past years, but it seems reasonable to assume that, at some time, state funds provided the majority of financing to operate the school.
However, unless there is a major turnaround, state fiscal support for the state’s flagship university is bound to dwindle to almost nothing. If that happens, is it expected tuition will keep rising to make up for the drop in state funding?
Already, tuition costs are testing greater numbers of students and their families. How much higher can these costs climb before parents and students are forced to look elsewhere for their post-high school education?
The KU Endowment Association enjoys an excellent record of developing private fiscal support for the school, but this money is not solicited, or given, with the idea of paying for services that are the state’s responsibility. The state is supposed to provide the essentials with KUEA providing the frosting on the cake.
Is this historic funding shift going to change? What happens when state support almost dries up? Who or what will fill this hole in funding?
Will KU price itself out of business in the eyes of many Kansans, no matter the excellence of the school?
Almost daily, there are news stories reporting KU officials calling for additional state funding. This week, it is the need for $75 million for a new health education facility for the KU School of Medicine in Kansas City.
Although not part of the state’s responsibility, KU Hospital officials, across the street from the medical school, plead the case for an equally costly, perhaps even more costly, new building to meet the hospital’s growing patient loads.
Just how much relief can come from offering more online course work? KU was slow to get into this field and is now trying to play catch-up. This presents a difficult question for KU administrators, regents and state lawmakers in that KU officials may be asking for new buildings, new living facilities, more research laboratories, etc., and yet, if online teaching becomes a far more attractive and economical way to take courses, is there the possibility of overbuilding on the KU campus?
As noted above, it is time, or perhaps past time, for those charged with providing Kansas residents an excellent system of higher education to come up with some sound, reasonable and workable answers as to how to provide the level of funding essential for the state to meet its responsibilities.
Or, is it possible many states will not be able to fund a flagship institution causing students seeking the challenge, excellence, vision and motivation provided at superior “flagship” schools to enroll at multi-state regional hub schools to obtain an elevated educational experience?
What kind of school will KU be 10 to 20 years from now and who will be paying for it? The state, students and their parents, generous private donors, corporations or the federal government?
Who will be managing the university? Those providing the funding (which is not likely to be the state)? The regents (who really don’t have any skin in the game)? Some kind of public body representing those using the school? The governor or possibly members of the Kansas Legislature, although there is a large turnover from election to election which would provide little or no consistency in mission and goals. Could professors run the school and raise the necessary funds?
Just because, over the years, Kansans have enjoyed a first-class system of higher education is no reason for residents to believe and operate as if this will always be the case and guaranteed for the future.
The money well is drying up. How can it be recharged in today’s economy?