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Does Public Care About Higher Education Cuts?

Opinion Press - June 11, 2013 10:07 am

The Manhattan Mercury

The Kansas Board of Regents has plenty of reason to be disappointed and even angry at Kansas lawmakers who approved budget cuts exceeding 5 percent for the universities under the Regents’ purview.

The cuts will, as members assert, hurt the education of thousands of present and future students, contribute to the exodus of some of the system’s most qualified faculty and undermine the long-term prosperity that legislators say is crucial for Kansas.

We share board members’ view that the cuts are “irresponsible” and “mind-boggling.” Unfortunately, the situation will probably get worse before it gets better. To offset millions of dollars of funding cuts, most of the universities have recommended tuition increases. Kansas State University, for instance, has recommended a 7-percent increase, a figure that will add more than $200 a semester to the average instate student’s expenses.

One immediate, albeit remote, hope for advocates of higher education is that Gov. Sam Brownback could undo with a veto at least some of the damage the Legislature has done. Despite the governor’s requests during the session to hold higher education harmless from spending cuts, however, a veto would conflict with other of his priorities, particularly continued income tax cuts.

Conservative legislative leaders, at their shortsighted worst, turned a deaf ear to pleas for even maintaining the status quo to enable universities, community colleges and technical colleges to cope with the growing demands of students and the marketplace. Indeed, House Speaker Ray Merrick and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades during the session supported even deeper cuts to higher education.

The only other place for higher education to turn is to the public – Kansans in all walks of life and in all corners of the state. Do they realize, or care, that the long lines, the closed classes and program cuts at universities are the direct result of legislative funding cuts? Everyday Kansans can be powerful allies. Legislators who simply don’t understand higher education issues, who are biased against universities or who tune out educators would think twice before tuning out their own constituents.

Do Kansans understand that when legislators cut higher ed funding, it isn’t the universities that suffer? Yes, K-State, KU and the other universities are proud institutions, but mostly they’re vehicles through which students acquire the tools they need to succeed, and they’re clearinghouses of ideas that foster economic growth.

When vital funding is cut, it’s the students who suffer by missing out on opportunities. It’s Kansas communities that suffer when they struggle to create jobs. And it’s the entire state, which won’t be as prosperous as it could be, that will suffer.

That’s a good, honest message, and it’s time universities shared it.

City of Salina