KU set to get $6 million in state money, but some strings are attached; university also preparing $40 million in future state funding requests

photo by: Associated Press

A bus makes its way along Jayhawk Boulevard in front of Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

UPDATED 3:30 P.M. JUNE 15, 2021

University of Kansas leaders will have their eyes on a couple of pots of money this week — one set of dollars they almost certainly will receive, and another, much larger, one that will take some convincing of state lawmakers.

The Kansas Board of Regents will meet on Wednesday and is scheduled to approve $6 million in one-time state funding for KU’s main campus for the upcoming school year. On Thursday, the board will meet again to consider $40 million in requests that KU hopes lawmakers will fund during next year’s legislative session.

The $6 million in one-time funding is all but a given. State lawmakers in the final days of the recently completed legislative session approved $25 million in funding to the state’s public universities. KU has been counting on receiving a share of that money, but has been awaiting a final decision from the Board of Regents on how the money will be divided among the six regents universities.

Regents staff is recommending that KU’s main campus receive $3.6 million in operational funds and $2.4 million for scholarships and student recruitment activities. The KU Medical Center also is recommended to receive $2.7 million in operating funds and $100,000 for scholarships and student recruitment.

There are strings attached to the state money, however. As part of the approval process, the Regents are highlighting the approved uses for the money, as determined by state lawmakers. For the operating funds, those include: employee buyouts to reduce staffing levels at the universities; one-time expenditures to pay for unexpected energy bills related to the February winter storm; and the broad categories of “economic development and scholarships.”

The $2.4 million in scholarship and student recruitment money comes with a more specific set of conditions that may be of interest to some students and families affected by the pandemic shutdown of the university.

Staff members of the Regents are highlighting several conditions lawmakers said schools must meet before being eligible for the scholarship funds. One of the conditions is that universities offer their classes in person, in order to be eligible to receive the state money. Another is that they offer refunds — not credits — to students whose room, board and meal plans were interrupted related to pandemic closures.

KU previously has announced that the next school year is expected to have a full return to in-person classes. KU also has provided some information previously about how some refunds have been granted, which was a change from earlier practices that focused heavily on credits.

On Tuesday, a KU spokeswoman said KU had been issuing a mix of credits and refunds related to housing and dining services affected by the pandemic, when student housing and dining halls were closed for a period.

Spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said via email that students who moved out of residence halls between March 17 and April 9 eventually were offered a refund on housing fees. The university first used the funds to apply to any outstanding amounts that were due on the student’s overall university account. Once those amounts were paid, the balance of the unused housing fee was refunded.

As for dining fees, Barcomb-Peterson said “the availability of federal CARES money made it possible to refund the balance of KU Dining dollars still held on student accounts from the FY 2019-20 contract year.”

The Journal-World, however, has asked for further clarification on that issue. In recent months, the newspaper has received calls from some KU parents who said they were not receiving a full refund on dining fees because their student would be returning to KU in the next school year. Those parents were told the student could use last year’s dining fees to buy meals during the next school year. Some parents, however, objected, noting that their student was returning but would be living off campus and would have far less need for a university meal plan.

A website that KU directed the Journal-World to for more information on the refunds continues to state that only students who have graduated or who are not returning to KU will receive a dining refund. Returning students will have their balances roll over to the next academic year, according to the webpage.

The language lawmakers attached to the higher education funding bill specifically talks about refunds, rather than credits, being offered to students. That bill states that a condition of universities receiving the one-time funding is that they have “refunded any money for room, board and meal plans related to closure because of the pandemic directly to the student and not by providing a credit.”

UPDATE: A KU spokeswoman confirmed students who are returning to the university have now been given refunds of their unused dining funds from last school year. The information on the KU website about dining accounts rolling over to the next school year was accurate at the time it was posted, but KU has since changed the policy once federal dollars became available.

The second pot of money KU leaders are hoping to land is much larger but also much more speculative. As part of their Thursday meeting, the Regents will start crafting their budget request to the Kansas Legislature for the 2023 fiscal year, which begins in July 2022.

The big part of the request will be for an additional $60 million in general funding for higher education in Kansas. However, each university in the Regents’ system was asked to provide its own funding requests to be considered.

KU’s list totaled $40 million for the year. The lists didn’t provide specifics about many of the programs, and a KU spokeswoman declined to provide additional details ahead of the Regents meeting. KU’s list includes the following:

• $10 million for deferred building and infrastructure maintenance on campus;

• $5 million for “researcher retention and startup packages.”

• $5 million for cybersecurity. KU did not provide additional details, but cybersecurity has become a higher priority for many large organizations after incidents of data breaches or ransomware attacks have increased. Kansas State, for instance, also asked for $5 million in cybersecurity and business continuity funding.

• $5 million for “economic development/industry-sponsored research enterprise.”

• $5 million for “enrollment enhancement/underrepresented student recruitment.”

• $10 million to be shared among three initiatives: the online instruction program Jayhawk Global; the Center for Certification and Competency Based Education, which is a KU-based center that “helps universities, businesses and students better meet each other’s needs;” and the Center for Rural Engagement. Several universities have such centers to create better outreach into rural parts of their states.

Regents are expected to receive the requests on Thursday, but are not expected to decide on a 2023 budget request to state lawmakers until September.

The Board of Regents meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday and at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday. Both meetings will be at the Board of Regents headquarters inside the Curtis State Office Building in Topeka. The meetings also will be live-streamed at kansasregents.org.

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