My grandfather was a lifelong Republican from Paducah, Kentucky. Despite never finishing high school, he valued education. He saw his daughters finish college, and later two grandsons. He wanted to pay for my education too, but died of pancreatic cancer before that came to pass. I entered Murray State in the last wave of students that could finish with Pell Grants alone and graduated with honors and two publications. For graduate school, I became a custodian at Murray State to get my tuition waived because that’s what was available at the time. I work full time and keep a 4.0 GPA while presenting papers at conferences and volunteering for the Humane Society. I value my education enough to scrub toilets to get it.
Gov. Matt Bevin says that Kentucky needs engineers, and that students should be discouraged from studying French Literature and other “impractical” majors. However, Murray State’s most popular majors are nursing, pre-vet/animal health, OSH, business/administration and agriculture. By offering to defund the humanities to provide incentives for “profitable majors,” he shows at best a gross misunderstanding of what students already gravitate toward. Besides, Toyota has manufacturing plants here in Kentucky that require people with engineering backgrounds and fluency in both Japanese and English. Kentucky needs bilingual engineers.
My intuition suggests that he’s framed this budget problem in the context of funding the sciences at the cost of the humanities to diminish all higher education. However, he doesn’t seem to understand how either colleges or businesses work. To start, we have to be accredited by the SACSCOC. The accreditation process demands that to be classified as a legitimate university, entire areas must be offered to all students (the organization’s pamphlet outlines this in point 2.7.3). By privileging one area over another using funding incentives for students, he risks crippling certain departments and jeopardizing the university’s accreditation. Also, universities attract businesses. From the point-of-sale arena of restaurants and retail to career-oriented businesses, universities drive the communities around them.
If his proposed budget cut of 100 percent from the state appropriation over four years goes through, universities will dramatically cut programs, becoming less attractive to students; dramatically cut labor, increasing unemployment; and dramatically raise tuition, creating fifty million dollars in student debt (just from Murray State) every year. If a university’s funding is attached entirely to graduation/employment rates, we risk running diploma mills, places that coddle students, leaving them unprepared for the workplace. He isn’t solving a problem, but instead is just moving it around.
I call the 100 percent funding cut a cut and not “performance-based funding.” That public universities should compete against each other for 10 percent of their state funding is ludicrous. Some of our neighboring states, like Ohio and Tennessee, do this in a reasonable way: 25 percent of funding is performance-based, measured against each university’s own performance in previous years. The idea that Murray State should have to compete directly with Western Kentucky University, University of Kentucky and University of Louisville is a naked attempt to cripple the commonwealth’s smaller schools. State universities are placed regionally for a purpose – to be regionally accessible – and that precludes gladiatorial combat for existence, to say nothing about our accreditation requirement (2.11.1) for financial stability. If his budget passes and the state appropriation that comprises roughly 30 percent of our entire budget becomes a yearly variable, Murray State’s future becomes precarious at best, nonexistent at worst.
The problem is that he’s doing the wrong thing for the right reason. Kentucky is broke because of a long tradition of borrowing money to pay for necessities instead of funding them properly. Parts of the state government have expanded without the revenue locked in to actually support them. Remarkable people do come from Kentucky, but they need available and affordable universities. If this budget breaks the higher education system, we’ll just be ushering in a great “bright flight,” making sure that Kentucky is a state such people leave instead of gravitate toward.
Letter from Clay Wyatt Alumnus from Draffenville, Kentucky