Retiring EKU president says Ky. must have additional revenue to fund higher ed and health needs

08/22/2012 09:33 AM

Eastern Kentucky University has avoided faculty and staff layoffs — but also meaningful raises for its employees. Meanwhile, the tuition and room and board at EKU has risen from $2,928 per semester a decade ago to $7,318 this year.

EKU President Doug Whitlock has been a steady hand over the last five years as state support has been cut 16 percent amid the recession. That has shifted a bigger percentage of the burden onto students. And Whitlock, who is retiring next summer, said changes need to be made in Frankfort before the state prices more Kentucky students out of getting a college degree.

“If Eastern Kentucky University had the same level of support per student today that we had a decade ago and we had the same budget in place that we had today, our cost of attendance would be at least $1,000 less per year than it is now,” he said (4:00).

Whitlock made a plea to the governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force that’s looking at revamping the state’s tax code.

“Whether it’s gaming, whether it’s restructuring taxes, Kentucky really needs additional revenue right now,” he said (6:00).

And that’s because higher education already has seen its state support eroded and is on the verge of getting squeezed some more, he said. Specifically, Whitlock cited one of the effects of the Affordable Care Act, which expands Medicaid to cover more low-income Americans. That could mean adding 325,000 to 400,000 Kentuckians to the Medicaid rolls that already include 820,000. Initially, the federal government will pick up the tab for the expanded coverage before it shifts partially to the state.

“Three years out, an increasing percentage of that will fall to the state. And that’s going to be a big number,” he added (6:30). “If the pie stays the same and other slices of it keep getting bigger, that doesn’t bode well for higher education at all.”

But Whitlock said he didn’t consider the Affordable Care Act a mistake because improving health is a “worthy endeavor.”

Whitlock announced last week that he would be retiring at the end of the academic year next July.

He has served as president since 2007 and has been at the university since 1968. At the end of the interview he talked about what traits he’d like to see in his successor.


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