Kansas Board of Regents seeking millions to fund new financial aid program for college students

photo by: Mike Yoder

KU students visit and pass between classes outside of Wescoe Hall and across Jayhawk Boulevard from Strong Hall on Friday, Feb. 6, 2015.

In an effort to help with the rising cost of higher education, the Kansas Board of Regents has a plan to funnel up to $50 million in new financial aid dollars to Kansas students.

But it is going to require some help from both state legislators and the private sector.

As part of its budget request to state lawmakers, the Board of Regents is seeking $25 million in new money that would be used to fund a financial aid program.

State funding would be matched privately, dollar for dollar, through university endowments or foundations, said Elaine Frisbie, vice president of finance and administration with the Regents.

If approved by the Legislature, the $25 million request wouldn’t begin until fiscal year 2021 because officials are still working on the eligibility rules, Frisbie said. Lawmakers, though, would consider the request as part of the next legislative session, which begins in January.

“We need ramp-up time,” Frisbie said. Currently, the board is surveying colleges to learn what their capacity would be for raising the matching funds.

The need-based financial aid would be for those enrolling in everything from two-year technical schools to four-year universities, including private, nonprofit schools that aren’t part of the Regents system.

Qualifying students could receive up to $5,000 each.

“It’s exciting advocating for students,” Frisbie said.

Board members began learning about the financial aid proposal at the board retreat last month. Board members approved making the $25 million budget request as part of the Regents’ September meeting.

Historically, attending a state university was low cost for students, and therefore the state did not offer need-based student financial aid programs, Frisbie said.

However, while operating costs continue to rise and state funding for the universities has remained relatively flat, the cost to attend college has shifted to students through tuition and fees. With this cost shift, concerns have arisen that greater numbers of students will not be able to access higher education, Frisbie said.

A way to offset some of the burdens for students, especially those in low-income families, is to increase student need-based aid programs, Frisbie said.

The new Kansas money would come after students already have applied for federal student financial aid programs, Pell Grants and other such programs.

“This would be the last dollars under financial aid,” Frisbie said. “If they have nothing else, this would fill in the rest, up to $5,000 per student.”

Currently, Regents officials are working with financial aid leaders and fundraisers to determine additional details.

The new request would build on a more limited financial aid program currently offered by the state. The Kansas Comprehensive Grant program is funded by the state, but it caps financial aid to $1,500 for students who are attending a public university. The program has enough funding to provide grants to about one out of every three eligible students who apply, according to information from the Board of Regents.


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