Academic performances threatened by budget cuts

Despite several years of funding cuts to higher education in Kentucky, local universities have continued to meet and exceed several academic goals set by the Council on Post-Secondary Education according to its 2014 state-wide accountability report.

Jay Morgan, vice president of Academic Affairs, said Murray State and universities across the Commonwealth may not be able to continue performing to these standards if funds continue to be cut.

According to a 2014 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kentucky has cut its budget for education by 25.4 percent since 2008, approximately $2,649 in cuts per student.

As a result, tuition in Kentucky has increased by 23.2 percent in the past six years.

“(With) a one year drop in state funding, (Murray State) can usually absorb and continue to perform well,” Morgan said. “But once you get to about two and three years and more of continual drops in state funding is when you start seeing basically some softness. And we’re beginning to get to that point.”

The CPE’s report shows Kentucky’s colleges and universities exceeded their targets in several aspects for the 2012-13 academic year including:

  • Total degrees and credentials conferred
  • Graduate degrees
  • Degrees and credentials for STEM+H (science, technology, engineering, math and health) conferred

The CPE also noted the decline in state appropriations for public higher education in its accountability report, which shows that since 2009 more than $100 million has been cut in funding.

President Bob Davies said part of Kentucky’s continued disinterest in investing in higher education is due to the notion that higher education is becoming more of a private good and seen less as a commodity.

“This trend is something that has occurred not in the past five years, but in the past 20 years,” Davies said. “The thought that you as an individual benefits more than society and therefore you should pay for it is something I disagree with 100 percent.”

In the four days leading up to the new semester, Davies spent his time in Frankfort, Ky., following the General Assembly’s recently opened 2015 Regular Session.

He said this belief in higher education being a private good is a notion held by legislators and key Kentucky leadership figures.

“(Legislators) want to make sure that degrees lead to jobs and careers and that’s important, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But it’s beyond that. The power of education is not teaching you facts and figures for you to regurgitate: it’s enabling you to have critical thought and to have new ideas and communicate those.”

While many states have begun to share Davies’ view and reinvest in higher education in the past year, Kentucky has fallen into the bottom 10 states in terms of funding increases to education for the fiscal year 2013-14.

Kentucky only increased its spending on students by 0.3 percent, approximately $27 more per student, over last year according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The CPE has pledged to continue to demonstrate the role of public higher education to the state in improving Kentucky’s economic competitiveness and quality of life.

It plans to do so in the upcoming year through reports, presentations and testimony along with several university presidents.

However, the General Assembly will not meet again to discuss its biennial budget until 2016.

“We cannot have the cost of tuition be a barrier,” Davies said. “But how do we work with government, how do we work with philanthropic donors and academic measures so that students who have  the ability and have the desire and determination will succeed and the cost will not be the determining factor is the question.”

Story by Ben Manhanke, Staff writer