- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hutchinson News, Sept. 26

Kansas has for decades struggled with depopulation of its rural areas. Gov. Sam Brownback has tried to deploy strategies to reverse that, both as a U.S. senator and now as governor, with programs such as a “New Homestead Act” and rural opportunity zones.

Such efforts largely have failed to stop the outmigration, especially of young people who are eschewing agriculture careers in favor of the bright lights of the big cities.

Now, however, comes opportunity to attract new immigrants to rural Kansas. Remember, of course, that rural Kansas was in large part settled by immigrants. In many instances, the cultural heritage of Kansas communities remains, such as in the Volga German population in Hays and Ellis County, the Czechs in Wilson, Swedish in Lindsborg, Amish in Reno County and so on.

Not just Europe but the world is facing a refugee crisis as Middle Eastern families flee war-torn Syria and surrounding countries. Many nations are doing their part to accept these refugees. Even in tiny Vatican City, Pope Francis - true to his character - already has taken in a family fleeing Syria.

The Obama administration announced earlier this month it would increase the number of worldwide refugees the U.S. accepts to 100,000 a year by 2017, an increase over the current annual cap of 70,000.

Some of these refugees could find their way to Kansas if we as a state were to make outreach gestures.

That would run counter to the current political environment, which is unwelcoming to Hispanic immigrants, let alone Muslims. But again, we would be wise to remember that, except for those of Native American heritage, we all are here because this once was a land that welcomed immigrants.

Contrary to the political rhetoric was Hutchinson’s role in a recent news story. The Cosmosphere offered a scholarship to space camp to the 14-year-old Texas high school student handcuffed and detained by police and suspended from school when his homemade clock was thought to be a bomb.

We not only are watching rural Kansas communities slowly die but we face critical shortages of doctors, pharmacists, dentists and teachers. That’s why U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran long has been a champion of a visa waiver program to attract foreign doctors to medically underserved rural communities.

Declining Kansas small towns have vacant housing and opportunities for a new generation of immigrants seeking a new home and a better life for their families. All Kansas needs is to open its arms, reach out to these refugees and offer some basic services to assist them with resettlement, finding jobs and homes. Implicit in that, of course, is a welcoming attitude.

On the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, that great monument to the immigrant heritage of these United States, are these words by poet Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

They remain ever poignant today as they were generations ago for this country and for our state, where civilization flourished upon the arrival of immigrant settlers and where still today a young immigrant can set down roots and grow up to be a doctor or scientist or teacher.


The Wichita Eagle, Sept. 24

Attorney General Derek Schmidt demonstrated leadership in securing a judicial order Tuesday meant to avert the statewide crisis of a court shutdown, though lawyers in a related lawsuit doubt the injunction’s validity.

In any case, the risk existed only because lawmakers and the governor made the system’s funding contingent on their judicial reforms holding up in court. If they had shown better judgment, and greater respect for the state constitution, there would be no “flames of conflict between the Legislature and the judiciary,” to quote Schmidt, nor a need for him to “calm the situation” now.

The Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback started the fire with a 2014 law that stripped the Kansas Supreme Court of its power to pick chief judges and control budgets across the state’s 31 judicial districts - changes seemingly at odds with the state constitution. Coercive language rolled over into a 2015 law guaranteed that if a court ruled any of the policy changes to be unconstitutional, all judicial funding would disappear through June 2017. That prospect loomed early this month after a Shawnee County judge struck down the provision about chief judge selection.

Tuesday’s order from Neosho County District Court seems to put the defunding trigger on hold until March 15, though lawyers representing four judges suing over the money provision question Schmidt’s actions and aren’t backing off their lawsuit.

Brownback and lawmakers have said they want the courts open. If they are sincere, and the injunction stands, they will seek a remedy early in 2016 that fully funds the judicial branch without stepping on its authority or independence.


Topeka Capital-Journal, Sept. 28

A survey of the six state universities under the Kansas Board of Regents system shows fall enrollment at those schools is down 890 students from fall enrollment in 2014.

Just what to make of that comparison, we don’t know. But the numbers themselves don’t appear to be alarming, and unless declining enrollments become a trend we don’t think the schools, the Board of Regents or Kansans have any reason for concern about the state of higher education in our state.

Although a recent report on the numbers didn’t include comparisons for freshman enrollment, it could simply be that fewer high school seniors decided college was the place for them right now.

A lot of college freshmen don’t make it to their sophomore or junior year. If the next freshman class isn’t large enough to account for those who leave and those who graduate, enrollment declines. But again, a reduction of 890 students across six schools doesn’t amount to a red flag for higher education, especially when Kansas has implemented programs to increase enrollment in technical schools. Those efforts undoubtedly have some impact on college enrollments.

Numbers released Friday by the Kansas Board of Regents show enrollment increased at the University of Kansas, by 108 students, and Fort Hays State University, by 358 students.

Lower enrollments were reported by Kansas State University, 620 students; Wichita State University, 508 students; Pittsburg State University, 235 students; and Emporia State University, 20 students.

However, news reports on the decline in college enrollment for fall 2015 also noted enrollment in the state’s technical colleges had increased by 433 students, a 6.33 percent jump over fall enrollment for 2014.

Furthermore, a story published Sunday in The Topeka Capital-Journal and at CJOnline mentioned the success of a program, championed by Gov. Sam Brownback, that helped high school students earn industry training certificates for high-demand jobs.

In the 2012-13 academic year, 711 high school students earned such certificates. The number of students earning certificates increased to 1,419 for the 2013-14 academic year and 1,692 for the 2014-15 academic year.

During Brownback’s first term, he said he wanted to increase enrollment in technical schools to ensure more young people were prepared for good-paying jobs that would allow them to support themselves and a family or allow them to save money to pay for a four-year college degree in they chose that path.

Clearly, initiatives in support of that goal have been successful.

This year’s smaller enrollment also may be in part a case of demographics. University leaders have been saying for the past several years that competition for high school graduates would become stiffer due to declines in the number of high school graduates each year.

Regardless, we don’t think a decline in enrollment is any sign higher education is in trouble in our state. The quality of students enrolling in college - are they able and willing to handle a college curriculum - is more important than raw numbers.

If the students who choose college are prepared for that task and options are available for high school graduates who aren’t interested in college - and steps are being taken to ensure those things happen - the state’s educational system is in a good place.


Lawrence Journal-World, Sept. 29

The enrollment report released last week by the Kansas Board of Regents held some positive news for Kansas University.

Official headcounts taken on the 20th day of classes showed enrollment increases at only two state universities: KU and Fort Hays State University. KU’s increase was small - just 108 students or 0.4 percent - but it was accompanied by some encouraging news about this fall’s freshman class.

The size of KU’s freshman class increased for the fourth year in a row. In addition to a 2.5 percent increase in size, this year’s freshman class also boasts the highest average high school GPA and second-highest average ACT score in KU history.

Higher academic standards were a factor in a 2.5 percent enrollment decline at Kansas State University, officials there said. “We have successfully weathered the transition from virtually an open admissions school to an institution that intentionally prioritizes student success,” K-State Dean of Students Pat Bosco told Manhattan reporters. The average ACT score for K-State freshmen is 24.9, slightly below the KU freshman class average of 25.2.

The number of foreign students in KU’s freshman class was more than double last year’s, contributing to the second-highest percentage (22.3 percent) of minority students on record. The number of black students in the freshman class declined, but that was offset by increases in Hispanic and Asian students.

For a number of years, Fort Hays State has used a partner university program in China to help boost its enrollment numbers, but this year’s increases came entirely from the school’s virtual college. On-campus enrollment declined by 37 students, and enrollment in China declined by 41 students (although FHSU officials say 112 “partner” enrollments came in after the 20th-day headcount). At the same time, however, the virtual college enrollment rose by 463 - an increase that may suggest a strategy that other state universities could use to boost their enrollments.

Even a small enrollment increase puts KU ahead of most other state universities, and the higher academic record of entering freshmen bodes well for the university’s ability to boost four-year graduation rates.

Challenges remain at KU, but the enrollment and academic reports are positive signs.

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