A “model budget” for Kansas crafted by the state’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity earlier this year includes a statement about tuition and higher education that should get the attention of everyone with an interest in the role of state universities in Kansas.
The budget model is getting special attention because one of its authors, Steve Anderson, has been chosen by Gov.-elect Sam Brownback to serve as state budget director. Among other ideas, the plan supports higher tuition at state universities.
Anderson, a certified public accountant from Oklahoma, has done some work for the former Flint Hills Center for Public Policy, which has changed its name to the Kansas Policy Institute. Interestingly, the Kansas Policy Institute highlighted a new study last week from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni noting how much tuition had risen at the state’s two largest universities in recent years. From the 2004-05 school year to the 2009-2010 school year, the report said, tuition at Kansas State University has risen by 29.7 percent while tuition at Kansas University increased by 52.5 percent.
While the Kansas Board of Regents and many Kansas residents are worrying about rapidly increasing tuition making higher education unaffordable for many Kansans, the AFP “model budget” is taking a different tack:
“There is no reason to tax the majority in the state who do not have children attending a state institution in order to subsidize those who do, especially when there is evidence it is the more affluent citizens who are more likely to have children enrolled in higher education,” the document said.
The statement is stunning on a number of levels. First, raising tuition would only aggravate what the AFP plan already sees as a trend toward only affluent Kansans being able to pursue higher education opportunities. It also discounts the benefits the state’s higher education system provides for the state as a whole, such as a well-trained and educated workforce and research-based commercial ventures that help drive the state economy.
If this philosophy is indicative of the direction Kansas budget planning is headed, higher education leaders have their work cut out for them. State universities already are too dependent on tuition to replace reduced state funding.
The Board of Regents and university leaders must make a compelling case to state legislators that individual students shouldn’t have to shoulder more of the cost to operate state universities that benefit the state in many ways. Simply saying that an investment in higher education benefits the state economy isn’t enough. They need to provide solid data to back up that claim.
The purpose of state-assisted universities, community colleges and technical schools is to give a broad spectrum of Kansas residents—not just the affluent elite—an opportunity to pursue post-secondary training and education. That, in turn, prepares those students to become contributing members of the state’s workforce.
It’s a good investment for the state, but especially in the current budget environment, higher education officials can’t assume legislators will buy into that premise without some hard data to back up their claim.