The state’s 19 community colleges aren’t opposed to mergers involving universities and technical schools, but they are concerned about how mergers will affect overall funding, the executive director of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees said.
KACCT Director Linda Fund visited Great Bend on Tuesday for the Barton Community College Board of Trustees meeting. She said a Feb. 11 bill introduced by Ways and Means to merge Wichita Area Technical College with Wichita State University has been pulled, but she expects it will resurface.
“Because we disagreed with the funding, they pulled the bill,” Fund said. “I gave testimony that we are OK with a merger of two entities who want to merge,” she said. But she went on to explain that if WATC becomes part of WSU it shouldn’t be able to take money from the pool of community college funding.
The bill didn’t stop with the WATC/WSU merger, Fund noted. It was written to allow for the merger or consolidation of any community college, technical college or institute with a state educational institution.
In short, more institutions would share the same pool of money, Fund said. And that pool essentially hasn’t increased since Fiscal Year 2008.
Governance vs coordination
The merger bill highlights another funding issue: State universities are increasingly attempting to woo students away from community colleges.
Fund said the chief executive officer at WSU was “aggressively seeking to take the concurrent enrollment away from Pratt, Hutch, Cowley and Butler (community colleges).”
Kansas community colleges are governed locally, but coordinated by the Kansas Board of Regents, which also oversees the Regents Universities. Fund said there is a natural tension for a board that governs some of its institutions and coordinates others to cross over into governance, but community colleges have earned some autonomy, since they are also accountable to local taxpayers.
“Right now, for the system of community colleges, the state only provides 18 percent of our funding,” she said. The level varies from about 11 percent to 40 percent.
“Twenty-seven percent of our funding comes from the state and that’s above average,” Barton President Dr. Carl Heilman said. “We’re at pre-2009 levels for state aid,” he added.