Morehead State University’s president told legislators Tuesday that there’s no need to turn the University of Pikeville into a publicly funded school.
Wayne Andrews told the House Education Committee that the area is already well-served by current universities and colleges. He said adding another public institution would deprive current institutions of scare resources.
“ What we’re talking about is a shrinking pie,” he said.
Rep. Leslie Combs, a Pikeville Democrat, has proposed using coal severance tax money to convert the University of Pikeville from a private to public university.
Andrews said that in fiscal year 1999, state support for higher education was $1.17 billion, while today it totals $979 million. If Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget is approved, that figure will be down to $916 million in 2013.
Increasingly, Andrews said, the burden is shifted to students’ tuition rates.
However, he added, Morehead is the secondmost affordable university for students in the state, with its costs being a little less than Kentucky State University’s.
Currently, he said, average tuition for Morehead is $ 6,942, and half of its students come from families that can be expected to contribute none of the amount. A student from a family that can contribute nothing toward tuition and who has an ACT score of 18 and a grade point average of 3.0 could be expected to receive $8,593 in student aid, excluding institutional awards and direct loan eligibility, he said.
The region the University of Pikeville would mainly serve consists of 12 counties: Bell, Breathitt, Floyd, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Letcher, Leslie, Magoffin, Martin, Perry and Pike. Eight of those counties are in Morehead’s service area: Breathitt, Floyd, Johnson, Knott, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin and Pike.
However, Andrews said, the network of four-year institutions already in place in eastern Kentucky is working. He cited a number of statistics to support that view.
Andrews said that in 2000-2001, only 7.1 percent of adults 25 or older in the region had a four-year degree. Now, that figure is 11.3 percent. The state average is 17.1 percent.
When he became president eight years ago, Morehead’s retention rate of students was 61 percent, and now it’s 73 percent.
Instead of using money to convert the Pikeville school, money should instead be used to give students scholarships they can apply toward any state university. But Combs told Andrews that she thought he unintentionally made the argument for a public university at Pikeville because the area’s educational achievement is lower than that in other parts of the state.
Former Gov. Paul Patton, the president of the University of Pikeville, also emphasized that point.
“Students are getting bachelor degrees at one half the rate as the rest of the state. That’s a fact,” he said.
Patton also said public universities have been getting more money from the state lottery to offset reduced state funding.
Eastern Kentucky University President Doug Whitlock also was supposed to have spoken on the issue at the hearing, but the committee ran out of time. Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, the chairman of the committee, said he would have an opportunity to speak next week.
Whitlock said after the meeting, however, that he was keeping an open mind about the issue and that he wants to hear recommendations from a group of consultants hired by the state to study the proposal.
However, he, too, liked the idea of using coal severance tax revenue to create a scholarship program.
It could, Whitlock said, be structured as a “forgiveable loan” that would not have to be paid back by students who get their degrees and then return to the region to serve for a specified amount of time.
The legislation is HB 260.