Higher education affordability important to regents leader
Donna Shank wants higher education to be available for all Kansans.
The 51-year-old from Liberal has a say in the matter. This summer, she was elected chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Regents. It's her second time in the post.
"I don't want students to be unable to take advantage of the public higher education system because of financial obstacles," said Shank, who earned her bachelor's degree from Wichita State University at age 41 after attending Seward County Community College. "We have to be very careful that we don't privatize public education so much that we price folks out."
Duane Dunn, president of Seward County Community College, has worked with Shank on several issues. He said Shank knows what it's like for an adult to go back to school.
"She really has a grasp of all levels of students, regardless of background," Dunn said.
And, Dunn said, Shank is open-minded and has excellent communications and listening skills.
"She asks good questions, rather than having a decision made before the question is asked," Dunn said.
Shank and the regents will face several challenges this year in governing public universities, community colleges and technical schools.
"I think we'll have to deal with economic issues. Fuel prices and food prices are hitting everybody and also hitting our institutions," she said.
The board also is working on a strategic plan for higher education, and a task force is meeting to consider changes to university admissions requirements.
Shank was appointed to the regents in 2002 by then-Gov. Bill Graves and reappointed to a second term in 2007 by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. She previously served as the board's chairwoman in 2005-06.
Her belief in access to higher education for all was noticeable during the recent discussion of tuition increases.
The regents approved tuition increases ranging from 5.3 percent to 7.6 percent for incoming KU freshmen. But Shank let universities know she was unhappy with the increases.
"This year there was more concern voiced about tuition," she said. "That discussion is always most difficult. It's tough to balance the needs of the institutions with the parents and students."