Citing a study conducted recently by the Kansas Board of Regents, Dr. Edward H. Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University, is traveling across Kansas and challenging state leaders to reverse a dramatic 20-year decline in support for higher education.
"State contributions will soon fall below 25 percent of what the six Regents universities need to operate," he says. "This trend ultimately will have a detrimental effect on the quality of education and will increase the financial burden on hard-working students and their families through higher tuition costs."
The president issued the challenge as he embarked on his annual Kansas Media Tour. The tour began with a Monday morning news conference on the FHSU campus in Hays, and the president will spend the week of Dec. 4-8 visiting with media and legislators during more than 30 stops in at least a dozen Kansas cities.
The study that was conducted by the Board of Regents analyzed the level of state support for the six universities from 1985 through 2005. Highlights of the study include:
∑ In 2005, the state contributed only 29 percent of what was needed to operate the state universities, and if the trend continues, state support is projected to fall to 24 percent by 2010.
∑ In 2005, adjusted for inflation, the six state universities received $1,635 less from the state for each full-time student than they received in 1985 -- a 29-percent decrease.
∑ Since 1985, state support for the universities has grown by only 5 percent while overall state spending has grown by 54 percent.
President Hammond said that, according to the study, state support provided 49 percent of the universities' operating budgets in 1985, with 15 percent of the budget funded through tuition and fees, but it had slipped to 29 percent from the state and 23 percent from tuition and fees by 2005. He said the ratio of support was projected to flip-flop by the year 2010, with 24 percent of the budgets coming from the state and 25 percent coming from tuition and fees.
"We know that higher education plays an ever-increasing role in the success of not just individual Kansans but our state as a whole," he said. "The quality of life of our citizens and the state's economic future depend on a reversal in this trend of declining support for higher education."
Specifically, the president called upon state lawmakers to increase funding for the university operating budgets in the 2007 session of the Legislature. Regents are recommending 6-percent increases in the budgets of the six universities.
President Hammond also asked lawmakers to provide money for deferred maintenance. The six state universities face a backlog of $727 million because important maintenance needs have simply been deferred due to the lack of state funding. Deferred maintenance on just the FHSU campus amounts to $40.9 million.
"We want to be reasonable," President Hammond said. "We hope they'll be able to at least make a significant down payment of $180 million to $200 million in the next legislative session. Two out of every three buildings the state of Kansas owns are on the campuses of the six universities. This maintenance is necessary to protect the state's investment in these buildings, which have a replacement value of $4.5 billion, and to ensure that we can continue to attract the best and brightest students to our campuses."
Besides discussing the needs of the Regents system, President Hammond talked about activities and goals at Fort Hays State. Now in his 20th year as president, he continued his practice of announcing a theme at the beginning of each year by declaring "Courage" as the theme for the 2006-2007 academic year.
"I believe courage is an attitude or response of facing and dealing with anything recognized as difficult instead of withdrawing from it," he said. The president said FHSU showed courage in meeting three difficult challenges as the last century ended. First, he said the transition of moving from the Information Age to the Biosciences Age was addressed by making sure that all science programs received new facilities, thereby positioning faculty and students to be major contributors in the state's bioscience initiative. Second, he said FHSU coped with the state's financial dilemma by increasing enrollment from 5,000 to more than 9,000 students to increase revenue. And third, he said FHSU seized the opportunity presented by China's emerging position in the world economy by becoming one of the leading institutions in providing higher education opportunities for Chinese students through four active partnerships and two developing partnerships in China.
"Now, we find ourselves facing new challenges," he said. "We need to grow our on-campus enrollments in a time when the population in western Kansas is declining significantly; we need to develop a first-class mobile teaching and learning environment to continue our high-tech advantage; we need to internationalize our campus and our curriculum to help our students function effectively in the global environment; and we need to improve and document our learning outcomes."
He said that to stimulate growth on campus, FHSU would increase the number of students from eastern Kansas by embarking on a turnpike corridor marketing program to enhance the image of the university in the eastern part of the state.
To respond to the need for a first-class mobile teaching and learning environment, the president said FHSU had provided its faculty the latest in tablet and laptop technology, and beginning in the fall 2007 semester, would require all incoming on-campus students to have tablet computers to assist them in their courses.
He said the university would respond to the challenge of internationalizing the campus and the curriculum by providing more opportunities for faculty to travel abroad, by expanding the number of FHSU students who travel overseas and by increasing the number of the international students on campus.
Finally, he said the university would enhance learning by improving students' writing skills and their computer literacy.
"FHSU weathered the past several financially difficult years by holding tuition increases to single digits and thereby generating record enrollments," he said. "From 5,626 students on the 20th day of the fall 2001 semester, our enrollment grew to 9,122 on the 20th day of the current semester. This has been successful, but enrollment growth cannot continue to be the only answer. We also need increased state financial support."
The president attributed the remarkable growth not only to 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.
According to the national Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System report for 2005, the graduation rate of 52 percent for FHSU students was nearly double the average of 31 percent for students at the 31 universities in FHSU's "Comparison Group." The report also showed that Hispanic students had a graduation rate of 43 percent at FHSU compared to 24 percent at the other 31 universities.
"The job placement rate for our students has average 98 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."
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."
"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 2006 Kansas Media Tour includes stops in Overland Park, Olathe, Kansas City, Kan., Kansas City, Mo., Salina, Clay Center, Topeka, Lawrence, Wichita, Newton, Hutchinson, Great Bend, Dodge City and Garden City.