TOPEKA — The climate of higher education has become increasingly bleak in recent years, with a spike in tuition rates and decreased retention.

Universities and colleges in Kansas have not been immune.

After a week of testimonies from University leaders across Kansas, the Higher Education Budget Committee made its recommendation for the 2020 fiscal year budget. The Appropriations Committee met to review the budget on Thursday.

University of Kansas Chancellor Dr. Douglas Girod was one of the leaders who testified before the Higher Education Budget Committee last week to plead for increased funding. 

“We don’t have wiggle room on tuition at this point. We’re doing our best to hold that at the rate of inflation and that’s what we need to continue to do for our students, but that’s becoming increasingly challenging,” Girod said.  

The University of Kansas has seen a decrease of $28 million in funding since 2008. Girod said that a larger budget would mean less of an increase in tuition. 

The agencies requested just under $2.9 billion for the 2020 fiscal year. Gov. Laura Kelly’s recommendation was $65.7 million less. The 2.3 percent was taken from the State General Fund. 

The discrepancy was due to only two of the agencies’ enhancement requests — $50,000 to provide tuition assistance for people wrongfully convicted and imprisoned and $315,000 to the Board of Regents for the National Guard Tuition Assistance program. 

The governor’s recommendation concurred with the agency’s request for $132 million for Capital Improvements. 

After hearing the testimony from University leaders and considering the requests and recommendations from the agencies and governor, the House Budget Committee agreed to the governor’s recommendation with some                      alterations. 

Overall, the committee recommended allocating $10.5 million from the State General fund to the higher education budget. About $8 million of the additional funds would go to the Postsecondary Education Operating Grant, which would be distributed to universities by the Board of Regents. 

The Board of Regents had requested a much greater amount of additional funding — $50 million — to the higher education budget. While testifying last week, Girod noted that even with that amount of additional funding, the University of Kansas would have to raise tuition. 

Student debt was a major concern for Girod and Dr. Charles Taber, provost and executive vice president at Kansas State University. Girod noted that 50 percent of KU students graduate with debt. The average amount of that debt is $28,000.

The House Budget Committee added a request to the budget that each university should present a plan to lessen student debt for the 2020 fiscal year to the Higher Education Budget Committee during the 2020 Legislative Session. 

One amendment was proposed by Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) that would change the way non-tiered course credit hour grant money was allocated to community colleges based on gaps in funding. 

The Appropriations Committee approved the budget contingent on the Higher Education Budget Committee’s acceptance of the amendment. The budget is now in the process of being sent to the House for approval.  

Kate Mays is a University of Kansas senior from Lenexa majoring in journalism. 

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