In September 2010, the Kansas Board of Regents approved a 10-year strategic agenda for the state’s public higher education system. Entitled Foresight 2020, the plan addresses three strategic goals:
• Increase Higher Education Attainment Among Kansans
• Improve Alignment of the State’s Higher Education System with the Needs of the Economy
• Ensure State University Excellence
The plan called for an increase in college graduation rates.
Published each January, the latest progress report on Foresight 2020 should be available soon. According to a December KBOR news release, “Highlights from (2017’s) progress report include a slight increase in the number of certificates and degrees awarded, improved on-time graduation rates at state universities, increased retention rates system-wide, and continued improvement in the transition of students from adult education programs to postsecondary education. Average wages one year after graduation appear to be up across all award types compared to the previous year, and the system continues to produce the number of graduates required to meet the needs of Kansas in many of the high-demand fields identified by the Kansas Department of Labor.”
But there are a couple of blind spots in the handling of Foresight 2020. In last year’s report, KBOR President and Chief Executive Officer Blake Flanders stated: “Over the past six years, progress has been made ... however, it is troubling that over these same years, state financial support 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.”
Then there is the “attainment model process.” According to the 2017 report, “the number of undergraduate certificates and degrees awarded across the Kansas higher education system must increase to 53,000 per year if the system is going to produce enough graduates to meet workforce demand. ... Today, the gap between current production and the goal is approximately 13,000 awards. Workforce development predictions suggest 5,200 of those need to be additional bachelor’s degrees and 7,800 need to be additional associate degrees and/or technical certificates.”
This is followed with a chart of the current award production by each higher-learning institution and by the increase per year needed to meet the goal. Barton Community College’s 925 awards per year (three-year average) need to increase by 338, or by 85 per year from 2017-2020.
Every higher learning institution is trying to make this increase but instead of this leading to more degrees and certificate earners, it often leads to more competition among the institutions for a shrinking pool of students. “Survival of the fittest” may not be the best vision for higher education.