With postsecondary education attainment tied to funding, CPE President Bob King calls for additional money

06/21/2015 02:30 PM

With “the steady of erosion of public general fund support” for Kentucky’s public colleges and universities since the recession, Bob King, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, says the state’s education achievement stats have dropped dramatically.

“When the legislature and governor were prepared and did invest in education the universities delivered,” King said, pointing to higher education reforms put in place in 1997 and later investments made by the legislature in the early 2000s.

As a result of the reforms and increased spending on postsecondary education, King said Kentucky at that time ranked first in the country for the rate of improvement in graduation rates for bachelor’s degrees, and the state ranked second in the nation for increasing the proportion of citizens 25 to 44 with an associate’s degree.

“This was extraordinary,” King said.

“Since the recession, and as we’ve been taking these cuts our rankings have fallen,” he said. “We’ve fallen in terms of graduation rates from first to 41st in terms of the baccalaureate institutions, from third to 44th in terms of the community colleges, and we from ranked second to 24th in terms of overall attainment rates from that age group 25 to 44.”

The current biennium budget pushed nearly 12 percent of the state’s $20 billion spending plan towards postsecondary education, but King said a lot of that money has been eaten up through additional costs placed on colleges.

“There’s a lot of things that are driving expenses on our campuses — it’s not just the cuts,” he said. “Just recently because of the pension system problems new expenditures have been placed on university budgets.”

“The legislature, which used to pick up the cost of maintaining and operating buildings on our campuses, have shifted that responsibility to the campuses,” King said, adding that the cost of equipment as well as medical and other insurance costs are rising and adding to the total burden on schools.

King said all costs aggregated equal a nearly billion-dollar hole for universities to make up, and he said those gaps have been filled not with tuition, but with efficiencies.

Still, while colleges and universities in the state have been operating on delays and part-time faculty, the Chronicle of Higher Education points to increasing compensation for college executives’ year-to-year in base salaries.

King said the “optics of some of it is probably not very attractive,” but he defended the levels of compensation.

“The reality is, and I was having the discussion with somebody on my staff yesterday, somewhere in America there is a company that makes coat hangers … and I am sure that the chief executive of that company is making a million-and-a-half, two million dollars a year.

“Running a university, particularly a big research university — although they’re all complex — you think about of UofL, you think about the University of Kentucky. They’re both involved with medical schools, hospitals, provision of health care,” he said. “At UK they’ve got the cooperative extension services all over the state — plus educating students, funding research, managing a large faculty — there are very few workplaces in the country that are as complicated or demand as much as universities.”

King also pointed out that “people don’t bat an eye” at the millions in compensation that college coaches are paid for their services. While university presidents don’t earn nearly as much as UK men’s basketball Coach John Calipari, King said the presidents “earn every penny of it.”

Another point of funding contention comes from dwindling funds from the Kentucky Lottery making their way into postsecondary education from the General Assembly to the tune of $70 to 80 million dollars in the last biennium budget, King said.

“The consequence has been that just from that money about 20,000 students have been deprived access to need-base financial aid,” he said, adding that the need is actually much higher in the state for assistance.

“We are hoping the General Assembly, in the next budget, will stop that practice and understand these are students that are forced to either not to go to college at all or they are forced to go, but then have to borrow the money and that just adds to the debt burden when they complete their studies.”

Watch the interview below including a discussion on performance funding and the group’s strategic five-year planning:


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