The House Appropriations Committee recently approved a 4 percent reduction in higher education funding in the state of Kansas, and the Senate committee agreed upon a 2 percent reduction across the board. The two have come together to decide how much funding the state will cut from higher education. Talks between the two bodies began Tuesday and are expected to go on through the next two weeks. The decision will then be tabled until a later date, most likely some time in early May.
Sydney Carlin, state representative for the 66 district, said she expects the final decision to fall somewhere between 2 and 4 percent. The funding cuts apply to all state-funded higher education institutions in Kansas.
"Given the two proposals we’ve seen, it’s challenging times for higher education," said Tim Caboni, vice chancellor for public affairs at the University of Kansas. "It’s challenging times for the state. What we know is that at the University of Kansas the per-student appropriation, controlling for inflation, is down 40 percent since 1999."
Caboni said state funding totals $150 million less than it did a generation ago. He added that at some point this begins to affect the core missions of institutions of higher education.
"At some point there is no fat left to cut and we are very much there," Caboni said.
Regardless of what the cut ends up being, Caboni said the end result will put pressure on institutions of higher education. There are only so many streams of revenue for the universities.
"We’ve been cutting, we’ve been becoming more efficient," Caboni said. "We’re going to have to look at every option that’s out there for thinking about how it is that we make up the full budget of the university."
The reduction in funding from the state will likely lead to either an increase in tuition or cuts in various programs throughout universities in the state of Kansas. Nate Spriggs, student body president and senior in agricultural economics, said that if the cuts do take place he hopes that K-State can keep the increase in tuition gradual and avoid spikes.
"As I consider different proposals it’s always important that we balance the needs of the university with affordability for our students," Spriggs said. "Affordability is as equally important as growing the school because we do not want to be in the situation where we are a top school in the nation but then no one can afford to come here."
Spriggs said that regardless of what the House and Senate decide, the governor still makes the final decision. He also mentioned that threats to reduce funding to higher education come around every year and that this isn’t what he is worried about. Spriggs added that the proposal coming from the House that he finds most worrisome is a salary and wage cap.
"There is a series of reductions that they’re proposing that make it very difficult for us to be competitive in terms of hiring people from outside of the state to come in and be researchers and educators at our university," Spriggs said.
This will pose a challenge to universities in the state of Kansas to be competitive with universities throughout the country.
"I think it would put us in a position that would be pretty damaging to our schools," Spriggs said.
Spriggs said, in his opinion, if the cuts do take place K-State should focus on using the increase in tuition to make up for the reduction in funding instead of spiking tuition to pay for other projects along with the budget difference.
For example, if there is a cut, the increase in tuition should go toward balancing the budget instead of other proposals such as an increase in teachers’ salaries, he said. He went on to say that K-State ranks near the bottom in the Big 12 Conference for teacher salaries, and if K-State does face a hefty reduction from the state, this year might not be the best year to address this or similar proposals.
"If there is a cut, the first thing that the tuition committee will address in next year’s proposal will be evening out the difference or balancing out the difference and addressing whatever cut we receive," Spriggs said.
He went on to say that unless it is a very large cut, the president has expressed that they would like to keep tuition near or under the increase percentage it has been at over the past few years, which he said was around 5 percent.
Carlin insisted that the cuts are not due to the state of the economy.
"It is not the economy," Carlin said. "It’s the tax bill."
Carlin said the reason institutions of higher education are seeing a reduction in state funding is because of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax bill to lower income taxes. State income taxes were reduced in order to help stimulate the economy. Carlin added that the economy is in good shape and the state should not be taking away from higher education.
Carlin added that as long as the tax bill is still alive and people are not paying the income tax that they used to, things will not get better for higher education.
K-State is the only university in the state, according to Spriggs, whose tuition proposal committee is composed of only students who have voting rights. Non-students serve on the committee but do not have voting rights.
The committee hosts open meetings every Thursday in the Big 12 Room in the Union. Spriggs said that students are welcome to attend and sit in on the meetings and express their concerns.
According to Spriggs, the cuts will not affect the K-State Student Union project. He said that the Union is strictly paid for by the students, and they now have a choice of either paying a slight increase for a new Union that can be much more profitable and enjoyable for students, or to keep paying for a Union that is currently operating at a loss.
"It really is the only building on campus that students own outright," Spriggs said. "We own its debt. If it operates in the red we own that. If it has any infrastructure needs those are our responsibilities, the state doesn’t appropriate money for those."