A proposal to create a new state university in Pikeville will undergo a review, a critical first step in what proponents believe could provide an educational and economic stimulus to the mountain region.
Gov. Steve Beshear ordered a study Tuesday to look into the “advisability and feasibility” of turning the private University of Pikeville into a publicly funded institution.
“ The University of Pikeville meets a regional need for quality education in Appalachia, and the school’s growth illustrates its potential as an economic driver in the area,” Beshear said in a statement. “Universities are economic drivers in their regions, producing well-educated and trained students who are prepared to enter the workforce.”
The University of Pikeville, founded by Presbyterians in 1889, has about 1,100 full-time students in undergraduate and graduate programs, including a school of osteopathic medicine with the mission of producing more doctors for the medically underserved region.
Proponents of making the private school a public institution say Kentucky’s mountain residents need a four-year state university closer to their homes. The nearest ones now, Eastern Kentucky University and Morehead State University, are more than two hours away from Pikeville.
However, the proposal is coming at a time of severe budget woes that have forced cuts in government services and programs across state government.
Leaders of other public institutions in the region are closely monitoring the proposal’s progress.
W. Bruce Ayers, president of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Cumberland, which has a campus in Whitesburg, said he’s not opposed to taking the private school into the state system.
“I just think it needs to be looked at very carefully,” he said Tuesday. “On one hand, obviously, you can see the advantages of lower tuition. But on the other hand, from the standpoint of a precedent, what signals are we sending to other private institutions that might also have designs on become part of the state system?”
Beshear ordered the study a week after former Gov. Paul Patton, now president of the University of Pikeville and chairman of the state’s Council on Postsecondary Education, pitched the proposal publicly. Beshear said such a move could be beneficial to eastern Kentucky residents.
“However, a thorough review of the advisability and feasibility of including this institution in the state university system is prudent and necessary as we consider this proposal,” he said.
The governor’s staff will hire a consultant to lead the study that will consider a variety of issues, including the educational needs of eastern Kentucky, the ability of existing universities to meet those needs, the economic impact of a public university in Pikeville, and the cost of taking the private school into the public system.
The study, expected to take up to two months, would also look at potential issues regarding personnel, academic standards, building conditions, campus policies, financial issues and accreditation.
The state conducted a similar review before adding the University of Louisville to the state system in 1970.