‘We have a painful spring ahead of us’: KU chancellor asks lawmakers to not cut higher education funding

photo by: Screenshot of meeting of the House Higher Education Budget Committee

University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod is pictured on Feb. 8, 2021, speaking virtually before the House Higher Education Budget Committee.

University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod asked a legislative committee on Monday to maintain the current level of state funding for higher education, saying that cuts proposed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly would worsen the university’s already bleak financial picture.

Kelly’s recommended budget would cut the state’s funding for universities by $33 million, Kansas Board of Regents President and CEO Blake Flanders told the House Higher Education Budget Committee on Monday. And Girod previously said in a campus message that $13.6 million of that cut would be from KU — $7.6 million from the Lawrence campus and $6 million from the medical center. As a percentage, it would be the largest cut to KU since 2010, he said; as a dollar amount, it would be the largest cut in KU history.

On Monday, Girod argued before the committee that state funding cuts would severely harm universities at a time when they were already seeing shortfalls because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“(Our) request is … keep our state funding flat so we can try to address the other issues that we have to deal with and not add one more to the pile,” Girod told the committee on Monday afternoon.

In his presentation, Girod emphasized that tuition and state funding make up the core of the university’s revenue — state appropriations make up about 18% of KU’s revenue, and tuition makes up about 24%. But Girod said that the COVID-19 pandemic caused enrollment — and thus tuition dollars and other revenue streams — to greatly decline.

“The pandemic for us has really generated revenue losses in about every place that we generate revenue, whether it’s enrollment, tuition, housing, dining, parking, events, etc.,” Girod said.

For fiscal year 2020 and fiscal year 2021, Girod said KU was facing about a $71.7 million budget shortfall because of revenue losses in those areas. He said the university also faced a $44 million shortfall from added expenses related to the pandemic, such as testing, campus reconfiguration, technology and personal protective equipment.

KU also saw about a 3% drop in enrollment this school year, Girod said, which included a 7% drop in the enrollment of first-year students and an 18% drop in international students. Girod said this was the largest enrollment drop in over a decade.

“So it’s really that combination of state appropriation and tuition that’s key for us to maintain our operations and provide our educational activities,” Girod said.

Girod said the university had been working to address the fiscal year 2021 shortfall by cutting $34 million through furloughs, layoffs, salary and hiring freezes, voluntary retirement programs, salary cuts for executives, universitywide salary cuts and more.

He also said that the university had received around $44 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds thus far — and that the university would not have been able to stay open without that money — but that the federal funding was “very restrictive” in how it could be used. Specifically, he said that “we can use federal dollars for expenses, but we cannot use it to backfill lost revenues, just as the state has not been able to use federal dollars to replace lost tax revenue.”

The chancellor said he expected KU to receive more federal dollars soon, “which we will need in order to function for the rest of this semester as well.”

After Girod’s presentation, Rep. Ken Rahjes, R-Agra, asked what programs and services KU might have to close because of the budget shortfall.

Girod did not name any specific departments or programs, but he did say some things would have to shut down. He said he hoped the university would have a plan laid out by late April or May for what might have to close.

“We have a painful spring ahead of us,” he said.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.