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191
By Kay Mills
Morehead, Kentucky
W
hen Kentucky passed its ambitious higher
education reform legislation in 1997, the authors
doubtless had never heard of Janie Spurlock or
Teresa Younce of Prestonsburg, in the mountains of eastern
Kentucky. But these two women have demonstrated what the
landmark effort was all about—helping more Kentuckians
receive education beyond high school.
Spurlock, 47 and mother of six children, and Younce, 44
and mother of two, might never have realized their dreams
of a college degree if they had been forced to commute from
Prestonsburg to the nearest public four-year university,
Morehead State, an hour and a half away. The reform
legislation not only encouraged universities to collaborate
more fully with community colleges to smooth transitions
into four-year institutions but also sought greater access for
students to bachelor’s degree programs; Spurlock and Younce
benefited from both provisions.
Both women first attended Big Sandy Community
and Technical College in Prestonsburg, then transferred
to the Morehead State off-campus center there in 2003.
While the center has existed for 30 years, it was only four
years ago that the university, building on the momentum
of the reforms, began
an extensive outreach
program and started
offering the bachelor
of social work program
at Prestonsburg. When
she graduated in May,
Younce was honored as the
outstanding undergraduate
student in Morehead
State’s department of
sociology, social work and
criminology. Spurlock, just
two electives shy of her degree, was named the outstanding
social work student.
Thousands of students have benefited from the reforms,
as these indicators show:
• Undergraduate enrollment increased to 205,832
students in fall 2005, up from 160,926 in 1998, according to
the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.
• By 2004, 81.8 percent of adults 25 or older had a high
school diploma or a general equivalency diploma, up from
77.9 in 1998. Adult education enrollment increased from
51,177 in 2000 to 120,051 last year.
• The six-year graduation rate from the state’s public
universities rose from 36.7 percent in 1998 to 44.3 percent in
2004.
Fall 2005
Kentucky’s Rocky Road
Recent reform legislation produces results, but faces tough challenges
• The patchwork of
two-year community
colleges and technical
schools was transformed
into the Kentucky
Community and
Technical College System
(KCTCS); enrollment
grew from 52,201 in
2000 to 81,990 in 2004.
• The Research
Challenge Trust Fund,
inelegantly known as
“Bucks for Brains,”
poured $350 million
into higher education
over the first six years
after the reforms passed,
enabling the University
of Kentucky and the
University of Louisville
to hire dozens of new
research-minded
professors. The goal is
to lift UK into the top
20 American research
universities by the year
2020 and to make the
University of Louisville
a nationally recognized
metropolitan research institution.
When former Democratic Governor Paul Patton took
office in 1997, he was determined to move Kentucky away
from its traditional economy based on bourbon, horse racing
and tobacco, toward one that relied more on science and
technology. To achieve this, Patton knew the state needed
a better-educated citizenry and an improved public higher
education system.
The legislature agreed, passing House Bill 1, which
established “Bucks for Brains” and five other trust funds
to finance the reforms. The legislation gave the Council on
Postsecondary Education the authority to determine how the
newmoney should be spent, but the council works with the
universities on developing the criteria. The legislation also
provided the council with a stronger role in coordinating
the public system of two research universities, six four-year
colleges and 16 community and technical colleges.
The council’s first president under the new setup was
Gordon K. Davies, an outspoken man who insisted that
legislators stop funding their home universities when they
didn’t performwell, and encouraged university presidents
President Lee Todd of the University of Kentucky says
part of his job is to “build a fabric of approval for higher
education among Kentuckians.”
In 2001 the
economy soured,
and higher
education budgets
were cut for three
years in a row.
Elaine Shay for CrossTalk