By: Dave Trabert
Word Count: 599
July 15, 2013
Teaching critical thinking skills is one of the most important functions of higher education. There is no substitution for “…the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”i
Unfortunately, reaction to the Legislature’s funding of Regents universities for the next two years has been driven by too much emotion. University officials and some legislators say that a 1.5% reduction in state aid for each of the next two years will be “devastating” and have “dire consequences.”
No organization wants reduced resources, but the responsible reaction is to conduct a full assessment of all options with a focus on avoiding negative impact on customers (in this case, students).
First of all, the reduction in resources is less than it appears. State aid comprises only 48% of universities’ General Use expenditures, so a 1.5% reduction in state aid is really a 0.7% reduction in resources.
Data published by the Kansas Board of Regents show expenditure increases of 2.4% for 2011 and 5.6% for 2012 (2013 is not yet available). Expenditures grew nicely over the last ten years, even adjusting for inflation and enrollment changes. Per-pupil expenditures for the six state-funded universities grew by 38%, while inflation was only 25%.
A small resource reduction on the heels of real spending gains is quite manageable, especially since Kansas universities have used some of their tuition and tax dollars to build up considerable cash reserves. As noted in “A Historical Perspective of State Aid, Tuition and Spending for State Universities in Kansas
” that we published in April, each university has the capacity to offset the small reduction in state aid by using a portion of their cash reserves.
Universities also have multiple options to operate more efficiently; administrative costs alone increased 79% over the last ten years.
The facts reveal no indication that a 0.7% reduction in General Fund resources will have ‘dire’ or ‘disastrous’ consequences. (Frankly, any management team that put an organization in such a position should be dismissed for gross mismanagement.) To the contrary, the facts indicate that university officials have multiple options to avoid such impact. Any ‘dire’ or ‘disastrous’ consequences would be a clear choice on their part.
The tendency to measure support for education (and other government functions) based on the amount of money spent is one of the greatest barriers to economic and educational freedom. “Show me you love me by spending more” is about institutions and the adults in the system; it has nothing to do with improving outputs.
By the way, Kansas is spending a considerable portion of its budget on higher education. Data from the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) shows that Kansas allocated 12.1% of the General Fund to higher education in 2012 as compared to the national average of 10%.ii
Kansas also has a much greater portion of total expenditures devoted to higher education, at 16.7% versus the national average of 9.9%.iii
It costs a lot of money to fund public schools and higher education but it’s how the money is spent that matters…not how much. It’s time to move beyond the rhetoric and implement student-focused plans to make the best possible use of taxpayer-provided resources.
i A statement by Michael Scriven & Richard Paul, presented at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Summer 1987, accessed July 11 at http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766
ii State Expenditure Report, National Association of State Budget Officers, Table 1 and Table 12; accessed July 11 at http://www.nasbo.org/sites/default/files/State%20Expenditure%20Report_1.pdf
iii Ibid, Table 13.