State higher education excels

Ed Marlowe
Staff writer

Over the past decade, Kentucky has improved faster than any state in the nation in several key areas regarding post-secondary education.

The news was confirmed by findings released in early September by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems of Boulder, Colo.

The announcement was made at a news conference attended by Gov. Steve Beshear and other dignitaries instrumental in the Kentucky Post-secondary Education Improvement Act of 1997, more commonly known as House Bill 1.

Beshear affirmed at the news conference that House Bill 1 was the backbone of the improvements, giving thanks to the many who dedicated time and effort to the cause of furthering education in Kentucky.

“This kind of success would not be possible without the dedication of many leaders, educators and volunteers who made higher education improvement a priority,” Beshear said. “Better education and better access to education are keys to sustained economic growth for our state. Investing in higher education is not only an investment in our students, but also an investment in our economy and future economic competitiveness.”

From 2000 to 2009, Kentucky ranked first in the nation for rate of improvement in the percentage of adults aged 25 to 64 with college degrees, going from 24.5 percent of the demographic to 30.5 percent, a six percent increase.

In the same span of time, Kentucky ranked second for improvement in the percentage of adults aged 25 to 44 with college degrees, moving Kentucky up eight places to 36th in the nation.

Furthermore, Kentucky ranked first for improvement in the percentage of six-year graduation rates at four-year institutions from 39.3 percent to 47.8 percent, catapulting Kentucky up nine places to 35th in the nation.

Former Gov. Paul E. Patton proposed and signed the landmark legislation known as House Bill 1 into law and now serves as the chair of the Kentucky Council on Post-secondary Education.

Council President Robert King voiced confidence about the past legislation and the future of Kentucky post-secondary education going forward.

“This progress validates the vision of House Bill 1,” King said. “The bill created a new set of expectations for post-secondary education tied to higher levels of degree production, economic growth and greater opportunity for all citizens.”

King, however, was short of calling House Bill 1 a complete success.

“While we are improving at a faster rate than other states on these measures, Kentucky still faces challenges,” he said. “These are challenges we’ll focus on over the next several years, including college and career readiness, achievement gaps, and better connecting the work of higher education with the state’s economic needs.”

Sue Patrick, director of communications for the CPE, discussed how the national and state economy have affected improving education in Kentucky.

“We saw a significant enrollment increase in our institutions, across all levels, but primarily at KCTCS as adults returned to school to re-tool, upgrade skills to be more competitive, and advance career opportunities in particular,” Patrick said. “It has also resulted in less state revenue to fund education improvements.”

Patrick said on Sept. 22 the council approved 13 state targets to be met by the year 2015 in order to continue the growing success of higher education in Kentucky.

According to cpe.ky.gov, the goals include improving the readiness of high school graduates for college, increasing the number of GED graduates, continuing the successful trend of bachelor’s degrees being completed and reducing the amount of students who qualified for funding but did not receive assistance.

In March 1997, the Task Force on Post-secondary Education concluded that Kentucky education was unprepared to meet the standards and demands of the global economy of the 21st century.

In response, House Bill 1 helped create the CPE, the KCTCS, the Kentucky Virtual Campus, the Kentucky Virtual Library and the Strategic Committee on Post-secondary Education.

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