Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little

Speech to the Community Foundation of Johnson County Champions for Education Luncheon

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good afternoon! It is a pleasure to be with you here today, joined by my colleague President Schulz.

I also am pleased to share the stage with Governor Parkinson again. Last week, we were at the roof-raising for the School of Pharmacy’s Wichita campus.

I appreciate the opportunity to visit with you today about the future of higher education in Kansas, and the role it plays in our economic success.

I’m a strong believer in the power of education to change a life. I’m a first generation college student. My parents both worked hard to support me and my seven siblings, and they recognized education is the surest path to personal success and fulfillment. An education gives you ambitions, and the motivation to set high expectations.

I know firsthand the power of education to change a life, because it changed mine, taking me from the small town of Washington, North Carolina, to the top of Mount Oread. I am determined to give that same opportunity for a new life to as many students as possible.

But while education can make a life, it also enables you to make a living. That’s why the primary driver of economic growth is education. The Greater Kansas City Community Foundation’s Time to Get it Right report said as much when it reported, “Research universities are the foundation of the global knowledge economy. Universities help cities and regions attract and create skilled human capital [and] help drive the innovation and entrepreneurship that is the key to economic growth.”

KU is an important part of the economic engine for Johnson County, and the metro area as a whole. More than 80,000 KU alumni live in the greater Kansas City area, working in fields from engineering to business, health care to education.

But just as KU is important to this area, the university could not be successful without Kansas City. More than a third of KU students are from the metro area. We have two campuses here, both with ever increasing student enrollments, and the Johnson County Education and Research Triangle is tying KU and the community even closer together.

KU, Johnson County, Wyandotte County, and the broader KC metro area are forever linked. Our successes – and our failures – will be shared.

That’s why it is one of my priorities to work with area business, education and government leaders to coordinate our efforts, and make sure we are maximizing our opportunities for cooperation.

Just last month, we had a ceremony to mark the latest in these collaborations – a new partnership with Johnson County Community College and our UKanTeach program.

Many K-12 education leaders have expressed a need for highly qualified teachers, especially in the fields of math and science.

To help meet this need, KU created the UKanTeach program, one of only 13 such programs in the nation. It enables students to earn a degree in a math or science discipline, and a teaching certificate, in four years.

This year 160 students are participating, and to grow that number, we have signed an unprecedented agreement with Johnson County Community College. Students will now be able to take the first two classes of the program at JCCC, before transferring to KU to complete their bachelor’s degrees. This will provide an additional option for aspiring teachers and help meet the growing need for educators.

This is just one example of the sort of partnership that is possible here in the Kansas City area. I met last week with Chancellor Morton from UMKC. As is detailed in the Time to Get Things Done follow-up report, KUMC and UMKC are already enhancing their collaboration. I believe there are additional opportunities for partnerships with Chancellor Morton and his institution, just as there are with President Schulz and Kansas State, especially through JCERT.

Coming from North Carolina, home of the Research Triangle, I’ve seen what can happen when a critical mass of researchers, educational institutions and entrepreneurs are brought together.

The creation of Johnson County’s triangle is a symbol of the strong support local residents have for higher education. At the height of the financial crisis, they voted to raise their own taxes in order to support education and research efforts in their community. That should serve as a message to policymakers about the importance Kansans place on education.

Thanks to the triangle, the Edwards Campus and Medical Center have been moving forward, expanding educational opportunities and building research capacity.

The Edwards Campus has already created a new program, a minor in business, available to the many students from Johnson County Community College. This spring, pending Regents approval, they’ll offer a bachelor’s degree in business administration to meet workforce development demand.

The designs for the Business, Engineering Science and Technology building are underway and we hope to have a groundbreaking in the spring. This building will be an important part of our ability to offer eight more graduate and undergraduate programs and certificates at the campus over the next four years.

At the Medical Center, designs are underway for the $22 million renovation of 4350 Shawnee Mission Parkway, which will become the KUMC Clinical Trials Center. This building was generously donated by the Hall Family Foundation. When completed in mid-2011, it will allow KUMC to consolidate its cancer and other clinical research into a single location, benefitting patients and researchers.

Additionally, we’re pleased to announce the addition of Dr. Maxine Stoltz as director of the center. Coming from the private sector, she brings 30 years of experience in the development and delivery of new drugs, and will be an outstanding leader for our clinical trials center.

The triangle, and the research that will take place there, is critical to the success of two of my three initial priorities as chancellor. I’d like to use the remainder of my time to briefly outline those priorities and where I believe KU should go in the future.

The University of Kansas exists to educate students, and for the second straight year, our enrollment is over 30,000. All of these students come to campus excited, ready to start a new adventure. But for far too many, the hopes of the first day of college turn to regrets, with the stigma of dropping out only adding to the financial cost of not finishing.

While KU has made strides, only about 32 percent of first-time freshmen have graduated after four years, and only 60 percent after six years. This isn’t unique to KU – universities around the state and nation are facing this challenge.

But as challenging this problem is for university administrators, it has much more direct consequences for students. My life would have been radically different had I not finished college. I don’t know where I would have ended up, but it wouldn’t have been here with you today.

That’s why improving our retention and graduation rates is one of my three priorities. I want to thank Governor Parkinson for his comments to the Board of Regents in August, where he made it clear this isn’t just a KU priority, or a higher education priority, but a priority for the entire state.

We already have some of the tools. The Governor and Legislature have given the Regents new authority to set admission standards, and we are looking at ways to make sure our standards give a more accurate picture of what is required to succeed at a university. That will encourage high school students to take the most challenging course of study they are capable of, ensuring they come to college ready to excel.

But getting more students to graduate will take all of us. Universities need to better collaborate with K-12 schools to align our curricula. The business community needs to help us make the case to policymakers that this is an economic imperative, one that will require resources. And students and parents need to recognize that being admitted to college isn’t the ultimate goal, graduation is.

At the same time we are working to help more undergraduates make the walk down the Hill at Commencement, my second priority involves enhancing the scholarly and research profile of the university they’re attending.

The Time to Get it Right report says “life sciences first” – and I agree. Our number one research priority remains achieving NCI designation for the University of Kansas Cancer Center. At North Carolina, the medical school, which reported to me, was home to an NCI designated center. I saw what that can mean to a university and to patients.

Of course, opportunities for commercialization of discoveries from such a center are great. But even greater is the good that can be done when we allow patients to receive cutting-edge treatments, and hopefully cures, in their own communities. That’s what makes our cancer center’s model so important, and it’s why I am proud to support this effort.

But in addition to the cancer center and our life sciences research, we have tremendous work taking place in a wide range of other fields. KU researchers are working with NASA to use unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor ice sheets. Others are developing biofuels. While still others are doing scholarly work in the arts, humanities, and social sciences that enhance our understanding of ourselves and our world.

Supporting all of this work will pay dividends for our graduate and professional students and will enhance the area’s quality of life. And, of course, merging KU’s research with the commercialization opportunities available in Kansas City will enable our work to benefit thousands of people in our area and beyond.

These efforts will require money. Which is why my third priority is securing the resources needed to properly support KU’s teaching, research and service missions. Less than a quarter of KU’s overall budget now comes from the State General Fund, which makes private giving, research grants, and support from initiatives like JCERT all the more important.

This community has been tremendously supportive of KU in this area. More than a quarter of individual donors to KU Endowment live in the Kansas City area, and we have been very privileged to receive support from a number of the community’s great philanthropic foundations.

But, KU is a public university, and private giving and tuition dollars cannot and should not be forced to bear the entire load. That’s why “eroding state support” is identified in the Time to Get it Right report as one of the main threats to KU’s future.

If we are to be successful in achieving these priorities, or even in fostering the kind of economic recovery we all believe is possible, the state of Kansas must make strategic investments in higher education. First by restoring the more than $100 million cut that higher education took this year. The Board of Regents is asking for a 3-year plan to accomplish this goal. Then by making an investment in students and teachers at all educational levels, tied to increased expectations for institutions and students.

Will any of this be easy? No. If it was, it would have been done by now. But we have the people who can make it happen right here in this room. We know the path to our goals, and the tremendous rewards for our communities that will result if we achieve them.

All we need now is the combined will and shared determination to take the necessary steps, to make the needed investments, and to achieve what we all believe is possible for our students, our universities, and our communities.

With your help, we can achieve all of these goals and more. Thank you.



One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
—ALA
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times
Chancellor's Vision

The mission of the University of Kansas is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world.

We will do that by raising the expectations we have for ourselves, the aspirations we have for our state, and the hopes we have for our world.

KU is in the midst of a comprehensive effort to ensure the university is ranked among the top tier of public international research universities.

Through Bold Aspirations, our strategic plan, we're changing the way we prepare students for success. We're fostering research and scholarship across all disciplines. And we're sharing the benefits of a flagship university with our state and world.

This effort is supported by Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, as well as our initiative to reduce administrative costs, Changing for Excellence.