Views from Kansas: College not just for privileged

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Kansas’ three major universities embrace the same mission as other outstanding higher-education centers nationwide.

The Kansas-based institutions of learning are steadfast in a quest to foster students’ reasoning, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. The goal is to prepare students for a career and a lifetime of contributions in their chosen field — along with the ability to adapt, should they decide to change course.

But too often, the high cost of education deters some students and their families from continuing their education after high school, whether in a traditional or technical-education setting.

During a recent visit with The Topeka Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board, Kansas State University President Richard Myers, University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod and Wichita State University interim President Andy Tompkins addressed that challenge and others. They’re determined to make college more accessible to all — a goal hindered by political interference.

In the past several years, a far-right faction of policymakers interested in shifting state support to private education options targeted the state’s colleges and universities with deep funding cuts.

Such shortsightedness only undermines long-term prosperity. With as much in mind, the 2019 Legislature and Gov. Laura Kelly rightly changed course by agreeing to funnel $33 million more into Kansas’ higher-education system, which includes universities and technical colleges. The governor also recommended that the state’s universities avoid raising tuition to mend its fiscal woes.

Such a quandary wouldn’t exist if more lawmakers would try to better understand the return on investment. Higher education is a known driver of economic development, with business prospects seeking an educated, skilled workforce when they’re selecting places to set up shop or expand. At the same time, colleges and universities must be innovative and evolve in efforts to prepare future generations of workers for critical roles.

Myers also recommended doing more to recruit first-generation students, and especially from underrepresented populations in Kansas.

College never was intended to be for a privileged few. Increased diversity on campus would create a student body that better reflects society and enhances the educational experience for all — a prime example of a forward-thinking initiative policymakers should support.

For Kansas to achieve progress, taxpayers and lawmakers alike should know the investment in higher education — and, in turn, a quality workforce — cannot be neglected or shortchanged.

— Originally published in The Topeka Capital-Journal

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