State cuts impede UK’s progress

By Alice Haymond

The UK Board of Trustees took a look back on progress made since 2006, and its report showed some inroads toward goals set for 2009 on the road to the Top 20 Business Plan. Progress could, however, be delayed by state budget cuts for higher education, said Provost Kumble Subbaswamy.

The areas the board wanted UK to improve between 2006 and 2009 included advancing research, increasing degrees achieved, expanding community engagement, improving undergraduate and graduate education, and developing faculty and staff. In some categories, UK has already surpassed the 2009 goals, but in others, namely undergraduate education, the university is lagging behind.

“We need to figure out ways to orchestrate that first-year experience,” said trustee Ernie Yanarella.

He said high schools would play an important role in that by preparing students academically for a college education.

In 2006, the middle 50 percent of ACT scores at UK were 21 to 27, and the middle 50 percent of high school GPAs were 3.2 to 3.9. The goal for 2009 was to bump up those scores to a 22 to 28 ACT range and a 3.3 to 3.9 GPA range. After a year, UK has made no progress toward either of those goals. The statistics for 2008 are not yet available.

Although UK has progressed to a smaller student-to-faculty ratio or 17.2 to 1, Subbaswamy said it might be difficult to continue to bring in more faculty, because of the state funding cuts, which have prompted UK to freeze faculty and staff raises for the upcoming year and before that, to freeze hiring additional faculty and staff. UK’s faculty salaries are currently more than 10 percent below the median salary at its benchmark universities.

“Faculty are patient,” Yanarella said, “but it is very likely, unless changes take place, that the second plan in a row will be found wanting.”

Despite those difficulties, UK made the most progress between 2006 and 2008 toward its goals in faculty and staff development. The university met the 2009 goals to increase female faculty from 33.2 percent to 34 percent; to increase the total number of faculty, which is now at 2,057; to increase the number of national and international awards by 10 percent and to analyze and adjust staff salaries.

“In terms of the business plan, we are ahead on this one,” Subbaswamy said, “but I expect to come down in the next census.”