The request from the state Board of Regents certainly sounds urgent. The governing board for Kansas’ public colleges and universities needs more state dollars because of urgent cybersecurity threats.
“We get hacking attempts daily,” said Blake Flanders, president and CEO of the board, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Tim Carpenter. “We get phishing attempts with employees daily. We’ve had people try to hack the live-stream server.”
The regents are asking for $50 million from the Legislature this upcoming session, for the universities in Hays, Pittsburg, Manhattan, Emporia, Lawrence and Wichita.
The request makes sense, but legislators should examine it closely. It also includes money to cover other cost increases at the institutions of higher education and hold tuition rates steady. In other words, while cybersecurity needs are real, the actual budget request covers — well, actual budget needs.
There’s a bit of a chicken or the egg scenario going on here. A good chunk of state legislators don’t like it when colleges raise tuition and become more expensive. But they also don’t like spending money on elite, hoity-toity institutions that they see as bastions of liberalism. So the regents are forced into ever-contorted postures to ask for state funds.
Frankly, the Legislature should realize that investing in higher education makes sense, period.
Our state’s colleges and universities have years of unmet needs, many dating from the twin catastrophes of the Great Recession and the fiscal experiments of former Gov. Sam Brownback. Basic costs have to be covered. Infrastructure needs remain. And tuition costs should be addressed across the board.
Achieving all of these goals costs money. And public education needs public investment, otherwise it’s simply not serving the people of Kansas.
That’s not to say that data security is unimportant. According to Carpenter, “protecting student data and sensitive research information had become a routine challenge for colleges and universities. He (Flanders) said the problem also surfaced at the Topeka office of the board supervising more than three dozen universities, community colleges and technical colleges in Kansas.”
That’s an urgent need, and the state should do everything it can to look after both student information and data from university researchers. But frankly, that’s just a start as the state moves ahead. Our students and their professors need resources as well.
When legislators return to Topeka early next year, they will sort through multiple requests for funds. But paying for higher education — across multiple levels — must be a priority.