Higher Ed Budget Discussion Includes Call for Merging Agencies, Vocal Universities

Jan 31, 2014

A review of higher education budget issues has included a call for merging education administration and urging university presidents to become more politically vocal.  The discussion occurred during a meeting of the state budget review committee.

Science Building on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University
Credit Eastern Kentucky University
The stage was set by State Council for Postsecondary Education President Bob King.  He presented a number of graphs to committee members.  One depicted steeply intersecting lines with increasing tuition costs and decreasing state funding support.  

King says that, since 2008, funding cuts per college student far outdistance reductions for children in kindergarten through high school. “The reduction per full time equivalent student is over 28 hundred dollars.  If you were to look at the reduction in seek formula per F-T-E, it’s about a hundred and seventy five dollars. 

So, there’s a very significant reduction in how we’re supporting students through state support,” said King.

According to King, the governor’s recommended budget does not include money to move toward linking funding to performance.  The C-P-E President says a funding policy based on enrollment, mission, and academic performance could be back before lawmakers a year from now. Long time Louisville Representative Reggie Meeks is suggesting legislators consider a merger of the Council for Postsecondary Education and the State Department of Education.  The latter is charged with overseeing K through 12 education. 

“We can continue to talk about the fact that we need new resources.  We’ve been singing that song for years and whether or not we get it, that remains to be seen.  But, our children’s education, the continued development of education in the Commonwealth cannot stop, does not stop,” said Meeks.

Committee Chair Arnold Simpson says any change in oversight policy would be a matter for the full Education Committee.  The governor’s budget calls for a two and a half percent cut in funding for public universities.  Several committee members expressed concern that higher tuition to offset cuts could price some students out of a college experience.  Eastern Kentucky University President Michael Benson says it’s too soon to offer any firm prediction on how final funding could impact tuition rates. 

“I’ve heard it anywhere from three to five percent.  But again, I don’t want to sound alarmist.  I don’t want to say we’re gonna go that high.  We’ll just kind of wait and see. You know Gary Ransdell at Western say they don’t want to do any tuition increases,” said Benson.

Part of the committee discussion focused on capital projects on college campuses.  Committee Chair Arnold Simpson worries some of those building efforts could adversely affect tuition costs.  He’s particularly concerned about a proposed new student fee within the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. 

“And I have serious, very serious reservations about the proposals as it relates to the community colleges which would in essence require students to pay a fee for basically non revenue producing buildings,” explained Simpson.

Simpson says these types of fees have traditionally helped pay for recreational facilities, not classrooms.

Derrick Graham, who heads the House Education Committee, also sits on the budget review panel.  He suggested university presidents organize to push for more revenue through expanded gaming and/or tax reform.  E-K-U President Benson says Governor Beshear recently made a similar request of presidents.  “I’ve talked to my fellow presidents and they have their own personal opinions on gaming.   I have my own opinions and we’ll kind of see how that plays out.  

The fact of the matter is people will find gaming, if they want to find it.  They’ll go across the river, they’ll go to neighboring states.  But I have my own personal feelings that I’m still kind of working through on that issue right now,” said Benson.

Committee Chair Simpson says, at the next meeting, representatives of the governor’s office will appear before the panel.  He's expecting House passage of the budget in early March.