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Kansas Regents Set Quotas For Further Increasing Graduations

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

The number of degrees and certificates being awarded by state colleges and universities is up, as are on-time graduations.

Overall the Kansas Board of Regents seemed pleased Wednesday with its latest annual progress report.

In news that will also be very welcomed by the Legislature, the report says wages are rising for those earning either a two-year or four-year degree.

In his message in the report, CEO Blake Flanders noted the accomplishments were made despite dwindling support from the state. Funding for the higher education system has essentially remained flat "with just over $744 million appropriated for FY 2010 and approximately $749 million appropriated for FY 2017," he wrote.

The state has cut $75 million from the Regents in just the past three years to help balance an ailing budget. Without making an explicit plea for more money, Flanders made it clear the system needs more resources.

"Unfortunately, Kansas will experience decreases in personal income per capita, lost income and sales tax revenues to the state, declining federal revenues, and lost savings in both Medicaid and Corrections budgets, if postsecondary education attainment isn’t increased," he said in the report.

The Regents have said that by 2020 Kansas will need to graduate 53,000 students a year with either a four-year degree or a two-year certificate. Currently, the annual quota is 40,000.

Wednesday all of the schools found out how many more students they are going to have to graduate to meet the goal. The University of Kansas will have to graduate 311 more students every year, Kansas State the same number. Johnson County Community College has a goal of 284 more graduates, while Kansas City Kansas Community College has to graduate 116 more students a year.

To hit the target, the Regents says campuses will have to get more high school graduates to seek a post-secondary education, keep more students in school until they graduate, or lure back to school some of the 185,000 Kansans with some college credit but no degree.

"There is no way to meet the attainment goal on high school graduates alone. We can't do it," Flanders said at the meeting Wednesday.

That may not be too heavy a lift. In 2016, 27 percent of those students without degrees had between 60 and 119 credit hours and 12 percent had 120 credit hours, according to the report.

While there was a considerable decrease in on-time graduations from the state's technical colleges (from 69 percent in 2010 to 56 percent in 2015), on-time graduation rates for other degrees showed a slight increase.

The report strongly suggests that more education means more income. In 2015 the average wage in Kansas was $42,020. For someone with a bachelor's degree just one year out of school, the average wage was just below that at $41,625. Someone with an associates degree would start their career earning $36,078.

Separate from the discussion of graduating more students, the board did make mention Wednesday of Gov. Sam Brownback's challenge to create a bachelor's degree with a total tuition and fee cost of $15,000. Regent Shane Bangerter from Dodge City says a degree at that price point might already exist. He suggests two years at Dodge City Community College combined with two years at Fort Hays State University would meet it.

Sam Zeff covers education and politics for KCUR and the Kansas News Service. He's also co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @samzeff.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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