What is behind higher-ed cuts?

Monday, June 17, 2013

The recent outcry against the Kansas Legislature’s whack at higher-education funding came too late to prevent a shortsighted and misguided assault on state-supported colleges and universities.

Though Gov. Sam Brownback sought to maintain current funding for higher ed, his conservative legislative majority did not fall in line on this one. Now the governor must confront cuts to higher ed that Tim Emert, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, has called “devastating.”

According to the regents’ numbers, the damage over the next two years will total $48.7 million across the 32 public institutions under its umbrella. Among budget areas to be reduced are student financial aid and salaries.

Kansas lawmakers passed this budget in a year when their peers in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado and Oklahoma all increased higher-ed support.

Why is Kansas the regional outlier?

As usual in Kansas, the divide is not Republican versus Democrat. This time it’s not even conservative versus moderate. Instead, the politics of higher-ed funding break along a fault line separating those who value the life of the mind and recognize the economic development contributions of education from anti-intellectuals who see education as a commodity that should be produced with the fewest inputs possible.

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