Budget Review Discussion Includes Call for University Presidents to be More Politically Active

Jan 30, 2014

Credit mspmentor.net

A review of higher education budget issues has included a call for merging education administration and urging university presidents to become more politically vocal. The discussion occurred during a meeting of the state budget review committee.

State Council for Postsecondary Education President Bob King set the stage. He presented a number of graphs to committee members. One depicted steeply intersecting lines with increasing tuition costs and decreasing state funding support. King said since 2008 funding cuts per college student far outdistance reductions for children in kindergarten through high school.

“The reduction per full time equivalent student is over $2,800. If you were to look at the reduction in seek formula per FTE, it’s about $175,” King said. “So, there’s a very significant reduction in how we’re supporting students through state support.”

King said the governor’s recommended budget does not include money to move toward linking funding to performance. The CPE President said a funding policy based on enrollment, mission and academic performance could be back before lawmakers a year from now.

Longtime Louisville Rep. Reggie Meeks is suggesting legislators consider a merger of CPE and the State Department of Education. The latter is charged with overseeing K-12 education. 

“We can continue to talk about the fact that we need new resources,” Meeks said. “We’ve been singing that song for years and whether or not we get it, that remains to be seen.  But, our children’s education, the continued development of education in the Commonwealth cannot stop, does not stop.”

Committee Chair Arnold Simpson says any change in oversight policy would be a matter for the full Education Committee. 

The governor’s budget calls for 2.5 percent cut in funding for public universities. Several committee members expressed concern that higher tuition to offset cuts could price some students out of a college experience. 

Eastern Kentucky University President Michael Benson said it’s too soon to offer any firm prediction on how final funding could impact tuition rates. 

“I’ve heard it anywhere from three to five percent.  But again, I don’t want to sound alarmist,” Benson said. “I don’t want to say we’re gonna go that high. We’ll just kind of wait and see. You know, Gary Ransdell at Western says they don’t want to do any tuition increases.” 

Part of the committee discussion focused on capital projects on college campuses.  Committee Chair Arnold Simpson worries some of those building efforts could adversely affect tuition costs. He’s particularly concerned about a proposed new student fee within the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. 

“I have serious, very serious reservations about the proposals as it relates to the community colleges which would in essence require students to pay a fee for basically non revenue producing buildings,” Simson explained. 

Simpson says these types of fees have traditionally helped pay for recreational facilities, not classrooms.

Derrick Graham, who heads the House Education Committee, also sits on the budget review panel. He suggested university presidents organize to push for more revenue through expanded gaming and/or tax reform. 

EKU President Benson said Gov. Steve Beshear recently made a similar request of presidents. 

“I’ve talked to my fellow presidents and they have their own personal opinions on gaming,” Benson said. “I have my own opinions and we’ll kind of see how that plays out. The fact of the matter is people will find gaming, if they want to find it.  They’ll go across the river. They’ll go to neighboring states. But I have my own personal feelings that I’m still kind of working through on that issue right now.” 

Committee Chair Simpson said at the next meeting, representatives of the governor’s office will appear before the panel. He's expecting House passage of the budget in early March.