WKU president says budget cuts will lead to loss of academic, student life student service and community service programs

02/25/2016 02:01 PM

FRANKFORT – Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell said that Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed cuts to higher education will have a crippling impact at WKU which will lead to a loss of programs, jobs and a reduction at the Gatton Academy.

Ransdell told members of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education on Thursday that a study conducted by Budget and Policy Priorities, shows that Kentucky state funding for higher education remains far below pre-recession levels than in most states, as state spending per student from FY 2008-2015 has declined by 27.6 percent. The decline equates to almost $2,949 per student.

The study further showed that while most states increased higher education funding over the last school year, Kentucky had a 2.3 percent decline, and is tied with West Virginia for the largest drop in state spending per student during FY 2014-2015, which equates to an additional $179 per student lost.

Ransdell told members of the committee that raises for his staff and faculty have been almost nonexistent in recent years and it becomes more challenging for him to talk with them about why the cuts are happening at a time when overall state revenue is up.

“We have to go back to our campuses and help our faculty and our students come to understand why higher education is being cut when state revenues are up, and the recession has, for the most part, run its course,” Ransdell said. “The question on our campus is that why is higher education expected to take such a deep responsibility to bail out the pension fund?”

WKU’s budget is $400 million annually, with $200 million coming from tuition and $72 million from state appropriations, or 18 percent of the entire budget.

Ransdell says the problem lies in the restricted dollars that the university has which can only be used for their restricted purpose such as student fees, research, endowment income, auxiliary revenue and foundations.

While dollars might be there, they cannot be used for general fund expenses such as salaries and general operating costs.

“To say that the cuts are softened because, when you take you take it as a percentage of the total budget, is simply an inaccurate extrapolation,” Ransdell said.

The WKU president projects a 3 percent tuition increase from the 2016-17 school year but says there is no way that tuition increases can make up for the proposed cuts in state appropriations.

“We’ve reached the point that our price point is at the medium of benchmark institutions and if we continue to raise our tuition above peer institutions, we’re going to price ourselves out of the marketplace,” he said.

Ransdell made it clear that if the proposed cuts are enacted, a number of useful programs would, in all likelihood, be eliminated.

“For us to address these cuts, we’re going to eliminate actual student life, student service, academic and community service programs, things that our community depend upon,” Ransdell said.

Ransdell also pointed out to legislators that the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science, a residential program for accelerated Kentucky high school students who have demonstrated interest in pursuing advanced careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, which is located on the WKU campus, would be subject to the cuts as well since their budget is part of WKU’s operating budget.

Ransdell wants to see Gatton exempted from the cuts, like all of the other high schools in the state.

“If these cuts hold up, 18 slots in the Gatton Academy go away,” Ransdell said. “So, you just put money into the Gatton Academy the last legislative session, to go from 120 to 200 students, if these cuts hold up, you’re back tracking.”

Ransdell’s final request to the committee was to eliminate the proposed cuts to higher education, and if they can’t do that, at least cover the Kentucky Employee Retirement System/Kentucky Teachers Retirement System mandated rate increase to eliminate even more hardships to his and other state universities.

About Don Weber

Don Weber joined cn|2 when it launched back in May 2010 and soon became a reporter for Pure Politics. He is a graduate of Northern Kentucky University and has spent many years covering everything from politics to sports. Don says he loves meeting new people everyday as part of his job and also enjoys the fact that no two days are the same when he comes to work. Don Weber can be reached at donald.weber@charter.com.

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