Regents report: Financial aid for Kansas college students to increase by $19M; KU chancellor gets 5% pay raise

photo by: Journal-World File Photos

University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod, left, and Cheryl Harrison-Lee, chair of the Kansas Board of Regents, right, are pictured in file photos.

Universities in Kansas will have $19 million more to spend on scholarships for students in financial need next school year, and public universities will get a greater share of it than they have previously.

The $19 million increase means there will be more than double the amount of state financial aid available to students than historically has been the case. In past years, the state has provided $15 million to $16 million in financial aid to students, but the budget for the 2023 fiscal year — which begins in July — checks in at $35 million.

The end result is that state leaders expect at least 1,200 more students will receive state financial aid next year. The maximum amount of state financial aid a public university — like the University of Kansas — can give to a student also will increase to $4,000, up from $2,000.

But the big increase in funding also led to a big debate: How much of that state money should private, nonprofit universities get to distribute to their students?

On Thursday, the Kansas Board of Regents decided private schools shouldn’t get as much as they’ve historically expected.

Historically, the state’s public universities and the state’s private, nonprofit universities — examples locally are Baker University and Ottawa University — have equally split the amount of state financial aid available, despite private school enrollment making up less than 20% of the state’s total.

On Thursday, the Kansas Board of Regents changed that longstanding practice, and directed that the state’s public universities get a greater share of the financial aid dollars. The state’s six Regents universities — KU, K-State, Wichita State, Emporia State, Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State — plus fellow public university Washburn, will get 64% of the $19 million in additional funding. The private, nonprofit universities will get the remaining 36%. The percentages were based on how many students the public and private systems have respectively who are eligible for Pell Grants, a type of need-based federal financial aid.

Representatives with the private universities recommended against the new funding formula, but a majority of the Board of Regents — which oversees higher education policy in the state — supported the change.

Board members said providing more of the money to the larger-enrollment public universities will greatly increase the chances that the money will make it to more students who are in need.

“That access and affordability could not be more important,” Regents Chair Cheryl Harrison-Lee said in arguing for the change.

Some Regents, though, worried that the change in funding formula wouldn’t be well received by state legislators, who are responsible for approving the amount of state financial aid available each year.

Private universities — there are about 20 in the state — often are among the largest employers and economic development drivers in many rural areas across the state, meaning legislators often are attuned to the concerns of private universities.

Regent Mark Hutton said the Regents’ decision to lower the percentage of state financial aid funds that private universities can receive might make it less likely that the Legislature approves more student financial aid dollars in the future.

“The biggest risk here might be in damaging our relationships (with legislators) on how we go forward,” Hutton said.

Hutton said he agreed that there were benefits to getting more of the financial aid to public universities but supported following the past practice of equally dividing the money because “sometimes you have to give up the hill to win the war.”

Private universities, though, do continue to have some unique advantages when it comes to state financial aid. While public universities can now give a maximum of $4,000 in state financial aid to need-based students, private universities can give $10,000, up from a previous maximum of $3,500. Regents were told that the state legislation that created the financial aid program mandates that private universities can have a higher maximum, given that their tuition rates generally are more expensive than public university tuition rates.

As for families who want to apply for the state financial aid, they can start the process at the Kansas Regents’ financial aid web portal at Income guidelines vary based on the size of families and other factors.

In other news, the Board of Regents approved a 5% pay raise for KU Chancellor Douglas Girod and a handful of other university presidents.

Girod received a 5% increase in his base compensation, bringing his compensation to $630,000 per year. Regents noted in unanimously approving the raise that it had been several years since a university CEO had received an increase as large as 5%. The 5% mark also is how much KU plans to increase faculty and staff salaries, on average, university leaders have said.

In addition to Girod, the university presidents at Wichita State and Fort Hays State also received a 5% increase. Presidents at K-State and Pittsburg State did not receive a raise because they were recently hired, and Emporia State’s interim president also did not receive a raise.

The 5% increase brought Wichita State President Rick Muma’s compensation to $475,000 and Fort Hays State President Tisa Mason’s compensation to $300,000, according to a Regents spokesman. Blake Flanders, president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents, also received a 5% raise to $265,000.

It was unclear on Thursday afternoon, however, whether Girod and other university leaders might be in line for other bonuses and bumps in compensation. As part of their motion approving the 5% raises, the Regents granted authority for the incoming chair of the Regents and for Flanders to “negotiate retention compensation as appropriate for fiscal year 2022 and 2023.”

A spokesman for the Regents said he didn’t immediately have information about what retention compensation could include or whether such negotiated retention compensation agreements would come back to the full Board of Regents for approval at a future date.


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