The portion of the state general fund that goes to higher education has slipped to 13 percent, and Dr. Edward H. Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University, is calling on legislators and other leaders to reverse that trend before it begins to lower the state's quality of life.
" I don't wish to be a pessimist or a doomsayer," the president said. "I commend our governor and legislators for striving to keep education afloat in the face of a weak economy. Nonetheless, state general fund support for higher education has declined from 20 percent when I arrived 17 years ago. We must find ways to increase support for higher education before reversals occur that will be a long time in healing."
The president launched his annual Kansas Media Tour during a news conference Friday, Oct. 22, on the FHSU campus in Hays. He will spend the week of Oct. 25-29 visiting with media and community leaders at nearly 40 stops in 15 other Kansas cities.
President Hammond cited research from the Citizens for Higher Education, a grassroots organization dedicated to raising awareness about the serious impact funding cuts are having on Kansas colleges and universities, to illustrate the problem.
The grassroots group commissioned a research firm, MGT of America, to compare Kansas universities with universities in the surrounding Big 12 states. The study showed that faculty salaries at FHSU fall well below the average salaries at comparable schools such as the University of Southern Colorado, the University of Nebraska at Kearney and the University of Central Oklahoma. The average pay for full professors at FHSU is $57,800 compared to an average of $68,828 in the Big 12 states. FHSU averages $48,700 for associate professors compared to $54,886 in the Big 12 states, and FHSU assistant professors average $41,100 compared to $45,147 in the Big 12 states.
Likewise, the per student funding for higher education in Kansas falls far behind the funding in the Big 12 states. Computed for full-time-equivalent students, Kansas universities average $5,745 compared to an average of $7,789 in the Big 12 states.
Citizens for Higher Education estimates that it will take approximately $127 million in additional state funding of higher education to equal the Big 12 state per student spending average.
Citizens for Higher Education also commissioned NorthStar Economics, Inc., of Wisconsin, to study returns on investment in Kansas higher education. It found that, based on 2000-2001 data, the Kansas higher education community contributes $5.2 billion dollars annually to the state?s economy and its employees, and that students and visitors spend nearly $2 billion in Kansas annually over and above tuition, fees and university supplied room and board.
That is an extraordinary return on the state's investment in higher education, which was $680 million in 2003, down from $756 million (adjusted for inflation and student growth) in 1990. The investment in higher education also has profound implications for individual students. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2002 the average annual earnings for high school graduates nationally was $27,280, but the average annual earning for college graduates was almost double, at $51,194.
President Hammond noted that while state support for higher education had stagnated in recent years, prices had risen dramatically for fuel, health care, maintenance and other expenses for universities. He said the decline in support for higher education was beginning to have an impact on the infrastructure of the campuses. A survey by the Kansas Board of Regents showed the current building maintenance backlog at $584 million and growing.
" Of that total, $35.2 million of the backlog is on the FHSU campus," he said. "The Regents determined that the primary factors leading to the current state of deferred maintenance on the university campuses are a lack of funding coupled with the age of the buildings."
He said two out of every three buildings owned by the state of Kansas are on the six university campuses; the 537 campus buildings have a replacement value of $3.9 billion.
" We cannot stand by and watch this investment deteriorate," President Hammond said.
The president said that Regents universities have hiked their tuition dramatically over the past three years to make up for the shortfall in state support. "The tuition strategies of the Regents schools have gotten us by, but we're facing major challenges in our base budgets as well as in capital expenditures for infrastructure," he said.
FHSU has weathered the three difficult years by holding its tuition increases to single digits and thereby generating record enrollments. From 5,626 students on the 20th day of the fall 2001 semester, FHSU enrollment has grown to 6,392 in fall 2002, 7,373 in fall 2003 and 8,500 on the 20th day of the current semester.
The president attributed this remarkable growth not only to the relatively low tuition but to the excellence of the education that students get at FHSU. The university has adopted a theme of "Affordable Success" to describe the education opportunity that it offers.
" The job placement rate for our students has fluctuated between 98 and 99 percent over the past several years," he said. "Our students have distinguished themselves by claiming regional and national honors in such diverse academic competitions as technology studies, debate, art and financial planning, to name just a few. All this is possible because of a quality faculty who have distinguished themselves in research, publishing and teaching."
President Hammond said the recent Report Card on Higher Education in Kansas, prepared by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, showed that quality remains high at all the Regents universities.
" Kansas received a 'B' in preparation, an 'A' in participation, a 'B' in completion, and a 'B+' in benefits," he said. "The problem grade was an 'F' in affordability, and that is a problem nationally. Only two states improved in affordability in more than half the indicators from the previous year, but Kansas was one of 31 states that showed improvement in some of the indicators."
The president said that affordability was not as much of an issue at FHSU because the university had resisted dramatic increases in tuition. "Also, affordability translates into accessibility, and through our Virtual College, which makes higher education available wherever a person may live, FHSU is making it possible for people to get an education even if they cannot uproot themselves from jobs or families to move to a college town."
He said the report card showed that the quality of education in Kansas remained high, but funding deficiencies must be corrected in order to preserve that quality.
" We can be proud of higher education in Kansas," he said. "Education is the most important key to our quality of life. We simply must not squander the investments of earlier generations that have made Kansas higher education excellent and accessible."
Besides Hays, the 2004 Kansas Media Tour includes stops in Kansas City, KS, Kansas City, MO, Salina, Clay Center, Topeka, Lawrence, Wichita, Hutchinson, Great Bend, Pratt, Dodge City, Garden City, Liberal, Colby and Goodland.