TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Restoring state funding for higher education is a structural way to keep college costs down for students, the head of Kansas’ governing board of education said after a community college announced plans to develop a degree costing just $15,000.
Blake Flanders, the Kansas Board of Regents’ president and chief executive, told the Topeka Capital-Journal that regents-governed colleges and universities have lost $75 million in funding over the past three years. Last spring, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback cut 4 percent from public higher education to help balance the budget, saving about $30 million.
Flanders watched Friday as Brownback announced that Cowley County Community College in Arkansas City had accepted his challenge to try to try to develop a program culminating in a $15,000 four-year degree.
That proposal would require students to complete two years of courses at Cowley County while still in high school, then transfer to Fort Hays State University.
But state lawmakers still have to appropriate scholarship funding, and Fort Hays State hasn’t yet set tuition rates.
“This type of program really highlights the need for higher ed and the need to keep costs down,” Flanders told the Capital-Journal. “And that’s why the Board of Regents’ No. 1 priority is to restore the funding that was taken out of the budget for higher ed. That’s the structural way to keep costs down for students and parents.”
The regents say that state general funding for universities as a percentage of total funding has been declining since 1999 — from slightly more than 40 percent to just over 20 percent. At the same time, tuition as a percentage of funding rose from about 15 percent to nearly 30 percent.
Kansas faces a budget shortfall of more than $500 million in the next fiscal year.
“We’re in a tough budget cycle, and I would hope we could get back to the point of having stable funding for higher education,” Brownback said.
While applauding Cowley County Community College’s initiative, House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said Kansas needs to fund higher education.
“Who’s against trying to find affordable education opportunities? That’s not the issue,” Ward said. “The issue is you’re not providing funding so kids can get into schools at any cost or without massive debt.”
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