Brownback tells regents to improve academic rankings of schools

Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday told higher education officials that they must improve the academic rankings of Kansas universities and that he has no problem with raising admission standards at the schools.

But the Republican governor also told the Kansas Board of Regents not to expect much extra funding for higher education. He warned of tight budget times ahead because of pressures to cut the federal budget.

“Our revenues are starting to come back as a state, but they are not coming back as fast as we are losing federal monies,” he said.

He said Kansas schools need to focus on core strengths and that may mean that some less-used degree programs should be disbanded.

Brownback’s comments came during a wide-ranging discussion with the regents, which completed its three-day retreat.

Regent Robba Moran of Hays said she agreed with Brownback’s position. “The more specific and targeted we are, totally makes sense,” she said.

Brownback said the regents should set goals for the higher education system, measure them and implement consequences if the marks aren’t met.

He cited the U.S. News & World Report ranking of Kansas University, Kansas State University and other regents schools, and said improvement must be made. In the 2010 report, KU ranked 47th among national public universities and K-State, 66th.

“We have got to do better than that,” Brownback said. He said improving the quality of the higher education is key to reversing negative economic trends.

“You have probably the best asset pool we have to change these numbers,” he told the regents.

Since a sizable portion of the academic rankings deals with admission standards, Brownback said he would support individual universities tightening standards as long as Kansas high school graduates still had the opportunity to attend a regents school.

Brownback also said he wants to increase emphasis on technical training in high schools and colleges, saying that most future jobs will require some kind of technical skill.

Regent Dan Lykins of Topeka noted that for the first time in history, tuition is making up more of funding higher education than state appropriations. He asked Brownback if that will continue.

Brownback answered, “It’s going to be very competitive for state dollars for some time.”

By Scott Rothschild

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