Wichita State University is running a campaign to have students support what they usually oppose: higher fees.
The university will hold a student referendum March 4 through March 6 to raise fees necessary for constructing a new business building. Older buildings needing repairs would also be renovated. If students vote yes, their fees will go up $6 per credit hour, or about $180 a year.
Wichita State's provost and acting president Rick Muma spoke with KMUW's Stephan Bisaha about the referendum and his concerns about what will happen to higher education funding in Topeka.
On worrying about state funding for higher education
I am concerned about it. I spoke to [Gov. Laura Kelly] a couple of weeks ago and had a private meeting with her and then this week. And I asked her about that. Obviously she's focused on K-12, Medicaid expansion, fixing the child welfare system. She's also put in her budget this year $9 million dollars [for higher ed funding], which is the last bit of funding that was cut in fiscal year '17, which translates to about $700,000 to Wichita State, which is helpful. It's not the silver bullet in terms of what we need in terms of funding but I think it's a step in the right direction.
Why he says increasing fees is necessary
New construction for academic buildings is not funded by the state. There's only a couple of ways to raise money for this and that's private fundraising, which we've done. We've had a lot of success in raising almost $30 million for the new business school, which we'd like to build. The other option is to raise student fees. There's not any other option to do that.
I understand the students' concern and how difficult that is for them financially. We try to minimize that as much as possible and the amount that we settled on in terms of the priorities. We're focusing real hard on our last two years of our capital campaign to focus on raising more need based aid for students. We had a lot of success so far in doing that but I do understand the hardship that it causes for students.
On the value of a new business school for all students
What you typically see when universities focus on building a new engineering building or a new business building [is] that brings other resources to the institution because industry wants these state-of-the-art facilities for not only seeing the value that students will have in those facilities, but they also tend to invest more and develop new internships and cooperative education experiences for students across the board. Rising tide lifts all ships.
On student irritation at the poor condition of some campus buildings
I understand the concern that we haven't focused on the core part of the building. We should have been doing that all along the way. But as resources have been cut and the fact that we don't get any construction money for new projects, it's really limited us over the last several years to do that.
Stephan Bisaha, based at KMUW in Wichita, is an education reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @SteveBisaha. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.