By Doug Ward

The Kansas Legislature and governor often treat colleges and universities like deadbeat relatives they wish would just go away rather than partners in navigating the future.

That wasn’t always the case, but budget decisions over the past 15 years show waning support for higher education. Inflation-adjusted state dollars spent by the six Kansas Regents universities have fallen 22.2 percent since the 2002 fiscal year. State money for universities peaked that year at an inflation-adjusted amount of $559.6 million. By fiscal 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available, that amount had fallen to $435.5 million (in 2002 dollars).

Those amounts represent the actual spending of state dollars that the universities report and that the regents post each year. (You can see more details in the interactive chart below.)

Actual appropriations for all of Kansas public higher education fell by 8.6 percent between fiscal 2008 and 2017, according to the regents. That was after a $30 million budget cut imposed by the Kansas Legislature and the governor. Those cuts were announced last week.

State universities have borne these cuts as enrollment has risen by 6.5 percent since the fall of 2004.

Making matters worse, the most recent state budget cuts $875,664 from student financial aid. By my estimates, that means that more than 400 fewer Kansas students will receive financial aid from the state in the coming year. I based that estimate on calculations using the average award in the 2015 fiscal year. (Most of the awards range from $1,000 to $3,500, and the average for the largest grant program was $2,026 per student.)  

That’s just my estimate. Breeze Richardson, the regents director of communications, said via email that the regents hadn’t decided which areas of financial aid would be cut.

The state provided more than $22 million in financial aid to nearly 12,000 Kansas students in the 2015 fiscal year. The regents oversee distribution of that money through 16 programs, including the Career Technical Workforce Grant, the Kansas State Scholarship Program, and the Kansas Ethnic Minority Scholarship. The money goes to students who attend both public and private institutions in the state.

The Kansas Comprehensive Grant accounts for the vast majority of state financial aid, and more than 10,000 students received that grant in fiscal 2015. Students at Kansas State ($1.93 million) received the most from that grant program that year, followed by students at KU ($1.3 million), Baker ($1.2 million), Friends ($1.1 million), and Wichita State ($1.1 million).

Like many other states, Kansas has slashed money for higher education since the 2008 recession. As a report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences puts it, “public higher education is perceived as a relatively flexible budget item.”

The problem with that mindset is that it darkens the future of the state and its residents. By 2020, two-thirds of jobs will require some sort of training beyond high school, according to a recent report by the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. Colleges and universities will play an important role in that training.

Those institutions desperately need to change the way they think, act, and operate – a common theme in my posts on this blog – but to have any chance of success, they need stable operating budgets.


Doug Ward is the associate director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and an associate professor of journalism. You can follow him on Twitter @kuediting.

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