Blake Flanders, the president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents, is saying the right things. In an interview for the Topeka Capital-Journal’s Capitol Insider podcast, Flanders spoke about strengthening need-based financial aid programs for students at Kansas colleges.
That’s an important move, and one we hope can be executed successfully. A university degree is a ticket to higher earnings and improved prospects over a lifetime, but too many Kansans are unable to shoulder the costs without crushing debt.
Late last month, we wrote about the regents’ decision to hold off on tuition increases for the next school year. The move was a solid one, but we noted the complex web of factors that drive up costs at universities. Avoiding increases in price is one piece, but more needs to be done, we said. Bolstering financial aid to students who need it most, as Flanders suggested, would be yet another way to address the problem.
In the same interview, the regents president showed why need-based aid is so important. For students with debt, the median amount owed is $26,000. While not as high as the amount owed by someone graduating from Harvard or Yale, that’s still a hefty sum for students in their early 20s to wrangle.
“That’s why we’re going to look at how we can help the neediest Kansans,” Flanders said. “We just need to seek a number of ways to help students finance that higher education.”
That’s a worthwhile start. But the devil will be in the details as the regents move ahead. How will the increased financial aid be financed? How will it be distributed? What would the qualifications be to receive it? And will said aid be in the form of scholarships or grants, or perhaps loans that could be forgiven at a future date? There are many options, and many arguments to be had.
As the regents address affordability, they are also looking to build relationships with the Legislature. And that’s another piece that simply can’t be ignored. Public universities should receive public funding, and lawmakers should see the importance of having world-class institutions of higher education in Kansas. That takes long-term investments.
One hopes that between avoiding tuition hikes and looking to boost need-based aid, the regents have proved to Kansas lawmakers that they take college affordability seriously.
The right pieces are falling into place. The right things are being said. Let’s stay on the path to success.