Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

State News

February 3, 2012

UK, UL leaders: Cuts are hurting higher ed

FRANKFORT — The presidents of the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville told a legislative panel that they will keep working to achieve the goals of higher education reform passed in 1997 in spite of on-going budget cuts. But they made it clear it won’t be easy.

UK President Eli Capilouto and U of L President James Ramsey really have little choice; they know the budget is going to be lean and they’ve already been told to prepare for 6.4 percent cuts. That reduction, said Capilouto, will have to be absorbed into the base operations of the university.

In U of L’s case, that’s a $9 million reduction. Ramsey said the total cuts since the recession began in 2007-2008 for U of L have cut the university’s state funding from $168 million to $141 million in Gov. Steve’s Beshear’s proposed budget. Capilouto said UK’s level of state funding has fallen from $335 million to $280 million in the proposed budget.

In spite of their commitment to achieve the goals of the 1997 reform legislation, Ramsey said those cuts will have real impact. He said U of L expects to “limit our enrollment,” cut both merit and need-based scholarships, and will continue to lose faculty to other universities.

Ramsey, a former state budget director, said the universities are in the business of producing “human capital” and the failure to fund higher education will have adverse effects on economic development.

“We used to think we could recruit factories to Kentucky and the jobs would follow,” Ramsey told the House budget subcommittee on postsecondary education. “But today, jobs follow smart people.”

Committee Chair Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, didn’t dispute the legislature’s inability or failure to fund higher education, saying the state is undergoing “a very stressful situation” and lawmakers have “been shirking” their responsibility to fund postsecondary education. But he also said universities must find ways to direct more funds to education – “Our first purpose must be to train young minds.”

Simpson said lawmakers are leaning more toward tying funding to retention and graduation rates, something Capilouto and Ramsey said they understand.

The two appeared on the same day that a co-sponsor of legislation to incorporate the private University of Pikeville into the state system said that UPIKE would eventually require state funding beyond the proposed use of coal severance taxes. Ronnie

Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, are pushing a bill to use about $13 million in multi-county coal severance taxes to bring Pikeville into the state system in order to lower tuition for about 1,100 undergraduates from about $15,000 a year to $7,000 a year. They, along with UPIKE President and former Gov. Paul Patton, say the move is necessary to increase education attainment in southeastern Kentucky and raise income levels and the standard of living.

But Combs said Thursday that the coal severance money won’t be enough at some point. She said using the coal severance money is the area’s “investment in ourselves, but yeah, in about 10 years” the university would require funding from the state’s General Fund.

Stumbo later disputed that. He said lawmakers can choose to fund the university from the General Fund at some point, but the legislation is designed to provide funding for Pikeville without competing with other state universities for a tight General Fund.

Ramsey said the need for more education opportunities in eastern Kentucky are real and need to be addressed. But he said a drop of demand for coal could reduce coal severance taxes and that could raise a concern about using scarce General Fund dollars for an additional institution.

He said he “could not imagine a situation where there is not some tuition increase” in the next two years given the proposed budget cuts.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter

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