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SMS President on Higher Education Funding, Part 2

KSMU's Missy Shelton continues her conversation with SMS President Dr. John Keiser about funding for higher education.

Shelton: This morning, SMS President John Keiser outlined the impact that budget cuts to higher education have had on students. Now, as we continue our conversation, i ask John Keiser how he makes the case for higher education funding when there are so many other demands on state funding.

Keiser: I think we point out that in 2002, state support for higher ed was 14.74% of the state's budget. In 2005, higher education accounts for 12.77%. Our share at the institution is $10 million that we were cut. During that same 5 year period, funding for elementary, secondary education, social services, corrections all increased...most by 10%. Healthcare, mental health particularly decreased but the fact is, I don't think anybody has been cut as vigorously as we have. It is public education and the public is going to have to make a judgment about how important it is. We obviously, with our belief in public affairs and the fact that knowledge is critical to our place in the world, the quality of our cities, state and nation are true believers in it. We either have to be more persuasive or they have to recognize that the younger members of their families may have the doors of opportunity shut to them or that public education, higher education will play less of a level and countries like China and India will pull ahead relatively rapidly.

Shelton: You mentioned that higher education *is* education and yet, some people would argue that there are clear lines that are drawn between elementary and secondary education on the one hand and higher education on the other hand...Do you think that's true?

Keiser: I don't think there's any question about that. As I indicated, elementary and secondary, while we were being reduced, increased by about 10% and it looks like it's going to be increased again this year. One of the reasons is political. Every legislator has a lot more school districts in his or her district than they do universities. The pressure is a lot more extreme. It used to be that the church and the family played much more of a role than they do now. So there is a bigger burden on elementary and secondary education than in earlier years. So for political and real reasons, there has been a move to make sure that students are ready to continue their education when they graduate. The problem is that increasingly, they can't afford to.

Shelton: In terms of looking at the big picture here, what are going to be the consequences of these actions now that perhaps over time will continue to price some of our citizens out of the ability to achieve a higher education goal that they may have?

Keiser: I think the future of the economy really depends on technical kinds of industry and sophisticated kind of business that requires education. Those businesses, that industry will look elsewhere and the jobs will decline. I think also the public sector, the water quality, air quality, the use of natural resources depend upon an educated citizenry too. And I think the public issues won't be handled nearly as well. Young people need, given pressures they will face from the Middle East and worldwide on Islam, need to understand what that is and need to combat terrorism while trying to understand and accept and in that case clearly ignorance is a major problem for them on a much broader scene. I think the states that handle the economic development well, handle the concerns about public resources well and handle the public questions well are the ones, that in the future, will prosper.

Shelton: Thank you Dr. Keiser.