President’s ‘balancing act’

Scott, Naccarato explain lobbying plans in town hall

| Marcus Clem editor in chief |

Steve Scott, Pittsburg State president, set out to speak plainly at a town-hall event he organized to discuss his goals as an ambassador to Kansas’ legislature.

Stopping the cuts

The town hall, on Friday, Feb. 14, in 109 Grubbs Hall, featured a certain tone of frustration that Scott has expressed in the past on the issue of higher-education funding.
“We have had to answer the question, ‘Is there value in higher education? Does it gain (Kansas) anything?’ That’s a question we’re ready to answer, but it is devaluing to us,” he said.
The administration’s goal is to divert the conversation away from these absolutes; Scott referenced what he sees as progress on that front as he prepared for his Wednesday, Feb. 19, Topeka lobbying trip.
Shawn Naccarato, director of government and community relations, emceed the town hall and went with Scott to Topeka.
Other than filing a concerted plea to not cut higher education any further, the lobbying trip, part of a broad effort for legislators’ hearts and minds, had the goal of campaigning for legislators to restore last year’s 6 percent cut of about $44 million across all the state’s higher-education institutions.
This year, because the 2013 session saw the passage of a two-year budget, the first of its kind in decades, that restoration must come as part of the handful of corrections and adjustments legislators will make before heading home.
“It raises significant questions, because almost every legislative session is structured around the budget,” Naccarato said. “This year, they don’t have to do that … The legislators are struggling a bit with what they are supposed to be doing.”

Bus tour effort

The height of the effort to court legislators to Pitt State’s banner came when the university held a seminar on Oct. 24, 2013, for a bus tour of members of the Kansas Senate and the state House of Representatives at the Kansas Technology Center.
The presentation at the state-of-the-art building helped temper some of legislators’ tougher sentiments, Scott and Naccarato said, though the future of the political situation remains treacherous.
“There are 125 House members and 40 senators,” Naccarato said, “and 165 views on how we can fund higher education.
“They all seem to be experts on this. I don’t know how many have actually worked in a higher ed institution, but they all talk about how we could do things better.”
Scott echoed Naccarato’s frank tone in reviewing the political environment that confronts the state’s colleges and universities.
Over the last 10 years, and especially since the global financial crisis of 2007, state support for higher ed has significantly decreased. Pitt State’s administration must constantly justify every dollar it spends, and still confront the possibility of cuts.

Tighter coffers, higher tuition

Scott referenced how things have changed since he took over for Tom Bryant as president in 2009.
“Dr. Bryant and I used to talk about maintaining state support at over 75 percent,” he said, referencing the share of state funding vs. other sources in providing the university’s annual revenue. Today, state support stands at about 50 percent.
“We have really seen that erode,” Scott said. “The state has a very different view. It has stepped away from this notion that a college degree offers a greater good. We’ve pushed back against it, but in 2008 it really got accelerated.”
Scott and Naccarato also used the town hall to discuss other parts of their platform for legislators, including the admission of undocumented immigrants as in-state students, the control of tuition, gun rights on campus and the protection of faculty tenure.
Of particular concern to Scott is rising tuition. No real choice exists, he said: If state funding goes down, tuition must go up. However, he still considers that a “painful decision.”
“When I walk away,” he said, “I’ll have to think, ‘Gosh, what did I do to tuition?’ … It’s quite a balancing act.”

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