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Science and Mathematics has
as one of its goals improving
teaching and learning of math
and fostering increased science
“Public engagement is a
big piece of what we do,” said
Northern Kentucky University
President James Votruba.
Through its strategic planning
process, the university learned
that among community concerns
was the fact that too few high
school graduates go on to college. NKU is starting a program
this fall through which working adults can get a four-year
degree in four years by taking two courses at a time in the
evenings on eight-week cycles.
Local people also have taken the initiative. Residents of
Hazard, in the southeastern Kentucky coal belt, had long
wanted a four-year institution, because of the region’s low
educational attainment. In 1990, only 7.4 percent of the
population had bachelor’s degrees.
Eventually it became clear that the area was not going
to get a university, so a consortiummade up of Hazard
Community and Technical College, Morehead State, Eastern
Kentucky and the private Lindsey Wilson College established
the University Center of the Mountains. Hazard’s instructors
provide the first two years of courses, and Eastern, Morehead
or Lindsey Wilson faculty members (either on site or on
television) provide the final two years, leading to bachelor’s
degrees in criminal justice, nursing, social work, human
services and counseling, early elementary education and
business administration.
Jay Box, Hazard’s president, said that his institution is
also attempting to become the Appalachian arts college, with
programs in bluegrass music, storytelling and the visual arts,
and by training artisans at the Kentucky School for Craft in
Hindman, about 20 miles fromHazard. The school, which
opened last year, offers courses taught by craftsmen in jewelry
and wood, and will add ceramics, architectural ironwork, and
various fabric-related crafts such as weaving. There are 25
students now; eventually there will be 75.
One of the biggest controversies during the reform
debate involved removing the community colleges from the
University of Kentucky’s authority and placing them and the
two-year technical schools under a single administration, the
Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Now,
some observers consider KCTCS to be the most successful of
the reforms.
“The community college part of the reforms worked better
than I expected, faster than I expected,” former Governor
Patton said. “We disavowed the word merger, but that is in
fact what happened,” said Patton, crediting the new system’s
first president, Mike McCall, with the patience and toughness
to make it work.
In addition to consolidating the colleges and improving
the rate of transfers to four-year institutions, McCall said,
his system is “constantly looking at our communities—
The reform legislation
encouraged universities
to collaborate more fully
with community colleges
to smooth transitions into
four-year institutions.
Kentucky’s Reforms
Produce Mixed Results
May 2008
en years after the state of Kentucky approved a set of major
postsecondary education reforms, some goals have been met, but
others remain elusive.
In a report for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce published
in December 2007, the National Center for Higher Education
Management Systems (NCHEMS) concluded that the state’s public
colleges and universities have made significant gains in the last decade
but that the most important reform goal—to boost the state’s economy
and to improve the quality of life for all Kentuckians—has not been
The study by NCHEMS, a higher education policy analysis group,
found a lack of coordination between higher education and economic
development. Despite major gains by many Kentucky public campuses,
the state’s per capita income remains what it was a decade ago—82
percent of the national average.
Although the reforms have not yet had a major impact on the
Kentucky economy, they have brought important improvements to
individual campuses. Enrollment has increased at all eight public
universities, and there has been spectacular growth in the two-year
Kentucky Community and Technical College System.
However, there has been little progress in preparing high school
students for college
work. According to the
NCHEMS report, of 100
Kentucky ninth graders,
only 65 complete high
school in four years; only
37 directly enter college;
only 24 enroll for a
second year; and only 12
complete an associate’s
degree in three years or a
bachelor’s degree in six.
The “education pipeline leaks at every seam,” the report said.
To deal with part of this problem, the Kentucky Council on
Postsecondary Education, the coordinating body created by the 1997
reform legislation, launched a “double the numbers” campaign in 2007,
hoping to increase the number of bachelor’s degrees from 400,000 to
800,000 by 2020.
State spending for higher education was strong in the first few years
after the reform legislation was passed but has been erratic since then,
ranging from a 0.4 percent cut in 2003-04 to an increase of 8.2 percent
in 2005-06.
Financial conditions worsened in 2008. Newly elected Governor
Steve Beshear, a Democrat, faced with a substantial budget deficit,
trimmed spending for all state agencies, including postsecondary
education, by three percent for 2007-08. Beshear then proposed a
budget for the 2008-10 biennium that included a further cut of 12
percent in higher education spending.
The most important
reform goal—to boost the
state’s economy and to
improve the quality of life
for all Kentuckians—has
not been achieved.