A 15-Year Perspective on Funding Higher Education

On August 14, 2002, Ingram’s convened system and university presidents, chancellors, provosts and state officials from Missouri and Kansas to address potentially catastrophic concerns regarding funding higher education.

By Joe Sweeney

While the state of Kansas was facing some very difficult decisions, potentially involving dramatic budget cuts, the hammer had already fallen on funding public universities in Missouri. Missouri’s General Assembly and Gov. Bob Holden had just approved a remarkable 37 percent budget cut in higher education funding. Compounding dramatic level of the reduction was the incredibly difficult timing: It came in the 10th month of
an operating year. Had the budget not been spent at that time, certainly the funds were allocated.

When we convened that prestigious group of 37 university administrators and state officials, there was very little that could be done at that time by executives at universities and colleges in Missouri, other than to react to the drastic nature of the cuts and try to share strategies for making it through the operating year. Though all at the table were passionate about the matter, few felt comfortable in taking a radical stance against the state, in fear
of potential repercussions in budget years still to come. 

Ingram’s, however, took a very firm stance and drove the message of the irresponsible action of the Missouri legislature to Jefferson City, and did the same on behalf of Kansas institutions with leadership in Topeka, and directed some of that same message to Washington, D.C. The legislature in Kansas was closely watching and the collective efforts in Ingram’s September 2002 edition helped inspire a much more restrained budget cut of 3 percent for public universities in the following year in the Sunflower State, despite a comparable overall budget shortfall.

Fast forward to 2017 and the March Higher Education Industry Outlook assembly. Concerns of funding and potential looming budget cuts were certainly present; however, the fight to combat potential budget cuts at the state level was minimal compared to the highly elevated tension 15 years preceding.

I believe the ongoing efforts to balance state budgets over the years and concerns of the effects of cuts to funding for education have been terribly wearing on university officials. To the point that there appears to be little fight left. To be fair, governors and state legislatures have faced tremendous challenges and funding for education has continued to be cut each year.

The Value of Higher Education

We’ve prepared plenty of documentation in this month’s edition that supports the value of investing in education. There’s no question that a student who obtains a degree from a four-year college or university—and especially an advanced degree—will dramatically benefit monetarily. One challenge for area institutions, public or private, is helping prospective students obtain the needed college degrees and avoid digging a deep hole of debt in the process. One that hasn’t received nearly as much attention is the chore of aligning programming to produce higher percentages of graduates with skills that are in demand, rather than an excessive supply of degrees that don’t justify the return on investment.

It is, after all, not only the student’s ROI we need to be thinking about here, particularly with programs that are tax-supported. Each state has a legitimate interest in seeing that its publicly funded universities are moving swiftly to make sure their academic offerings are moving at the so-called speed of business. Neither is this a concern of public institutions alone; private colleges reliant on more donor funding are under the same pressures to ensure degree relevancy.

I think you’ll find this month’s edition of Ingram’s an interesting one and we hope state officials learn from the mistakes in the past to prevent such poor decisions, similar to those in Missouri when  budgets to public higher education were cut by well more than one-third as the operating year was deep into its final quarter. 

About the author


Joe Sweeney

Editor-In-Chief & Publisher


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