Girod testifies before Kansas Legislature on KU’s economic impact, need for funding increase

University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod testifies before the Kansas House Higher Education Budget Committee on Monday, Feb. 17, 2020.

TOPEKA — KU Chancellor Douglas Girod used testimony before the Kansas House and Senate Higher Education Budget Committees on Monday to tout the impact the flagship university has on the Kansas economy in the hopes of spurring more funding in the state fiscal year 2021 budget.

The committees are preparing to issue recommendations at the end of this week on how much funding to provide to the six Kansas Board of Regents institutions.

There is a large discrepancy between how much money those institutions asked for — $50 million — versus how much Gov. Laura Kelly allocated in her fiscal year 2021 budget — $11.9 million.

If that difference isn’t addressed, it may be the determining factor in whether KU is able to keep its tuition rates flat again, Girod said. The university did keep its tuition flat for the 2019-20 school year, he said — the first time that had happened since 1983.

“We appreciate your support of higher education and what that means to the state of Kansas,” Girod said. “We’re very appreciative of the support we got last year across Regents institutions. It was the first time in many years we got that kind of support … so that’s a very, very meaningful change.”

KU’s economic impact is felt across all 105 counties in the state, Girod told legislators. The university has some 10,000 employees across the state, with an additional 4,000 students working part-time while enrolled at the university.

Its impact is also felt, he said, in the research KU conducts. Of the university’s $1.3 billion operating budget, $264 million of that is externally funded research.

“That’s a very big part of who we are and a very big part of what we offer the state from an economic development perspective,” he said. “That translates to almost 4,200 jobs in the state funded by that research, and that’s a huge economic benefit even if you disregard the great work that comes out of the research and the discoveries that come out of the research.”

“It’s the sheer economic engine of bringing that many jobs into the state,” he said.

All things considered, however, the university will likely be put into yet another tough spot based on state funding if legislators don’t approve additional funds beyond Kelly’s recommendations.

Keeping tuition rates flat required a lot of budgetary maneuvering behind the scenes, Girod told legislators. And with the inflationary costs that will be required, the $11.9 million — around $2.6 million of which would go to KU — won’t cut it.

Rep. Mike Amyx, D-Lawrence, voiced concerns that tuition would again be raised at KU if the Regents’ request of $50 million for its institutions wasn’t approved.

“My district obviously incorporates a number of students and the number one concern, I think, is that there would be increased tuition costs,” he said. “So when I go back to my district, I want to make sure I’m able to (clarify) that.”

Girod clarified for Amyx that it would likely take full approval of the Regents’ request to avoid tuition hikes simply to account for inflation alone.

“We continue to be a great economic engine for the state. We are net importing talent into this region and our businesses very much need that,” the chancellor said in his final pitch to legislators. “We certainly believe it’s a great return on investment for the state.”

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