Kentucky students can no longer stand by as our schools are underfunded. We cannot stand by as our tuition rates climb while the number of full-time faculty on our campuses gets smaller every year. We cannot stand by as our facilities become outdated or as other states become more academically competitive in STEM fields.
Based on the latest data, our campuses have $400 less to spend on a per student basis today than they had in 2007-08. Even with tuition increases, campuses have not been able to keep up with the effects of budget cuts, the growth in the costs of pensions, health insurance and growing demands on financial aid. Further, many expenses have shifted from the state government to the campus operating budgets.
I am proud that I graduated from and am now earning a master’s degree at a Kentucky university. Choosing a college was a difficult decision. After considering ten schools across the country, I accepted a scholarship from Northern Kentucky University. I learned from caring professors with real-world experience, studied abroad, and attended multiple leadership retreats. Luckily, my university is able to provide these programs even as state funding to Kentucky’s universities has been cut by $173 million since the recession.
With enough funding, Kentucky universities can do amazing things. NKU was one of the first universities in the country to offer student philanthropy courses. Through my Spanish Cinema class, we partnered with the Mayerson Project by visiting local nonprofits and presenting a case to the class on why the nonprofit should receive a $2,000 grant. These presentations were done in Spanish about nonprofits that serve populations addressed in the films we watched. This class would not have been possible without the dedication of one of my university’s full-time faculty members.
Our Kentucky universities also provide life-changing experiences outside the classroom. As a freshman, I attended a leadership retreat with about 50 other freshmen that took us to West Virginia. We learned about identifying our values, setting goals for ourselves and facing our fears. A year later, I co-led the retreat. A friend of mine later told me that he had been considering leaving university until he attended that retreat. This is the kind of program that empowers and retains students, and it would not be possible without funding from my university’s Student Fee Allocation Board.
During my junior year, I began working in my university’s Office of Government & Community Relations. That is when I found out that Kentucky’s universities are underfunded. Students like myself are faced with higher tuition in order to sustain the quality education we deserve. In fact, if tuition rates continue on their current trajectory, the student’s share of funding universities will climb to 74 percent by 2019. This means that either students will have to pay more to sustain the cost of valuable professors and programs, or we will start losing what makes our universities stand out.
So what can Kentucky citizens do? The Council on Postsecondary Education is asking the governor to restore $86.7 million of the cuts through a performance-funding request. We need to call and write to our legislators to ask for this funding back. This is what we students in Kentucky deserve: enough funding to give us a chance to succeed.
Letter from Elizabeth Ruwe, Student member, Council on Postsecondary Education Murray