Chamber measures higher-ed progress

The state can measure its progress toward higher education goals today as the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce releases a report of analysis and recommendations based on the 1997 Postsecondary Education Improvement Act.

With Kentucky situated near the bottom of national education rankings, the state legislature passed the act 10 years ago mandating that UK become a top-20 research institution by 2020, along with other educational improvements.

A task force created by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has worked for the past eight months to assess how these reforms — including new state organizations and new funding strategies — have affected the state, and what Kentucky still has to do.

“The bottom line of the report is it affirms the goals of the ’97 reforms,” said Dave Adkisson, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “So this is a 10th anniversary review of what we’ve been doing.”

Today’s release will include a review conducted by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems of Boulder, Colo. The organization used data like graduation and enrollment rates, interviews with postsecondary education officials and state officeholders, and comments from 18 open forums held across the state to gauge public opinion on higher education problems.

Colleges’ dependence on state government for funding is one of the issues the 26-member task force has examined, Adkisson said.

“The funding in Kentucky is still heavily influenced by legislative politics,” he said. “Each university goes to the legislature on its own and asks for funding.”

A more rational system would be for the Kentucky legislature to give money based on the state’s goals instead of those of individual universities, Adkisson said.

Beginning in January, UK — along with other Kentucky universities — will petition the General Assembly for funding. UK President Lee Todd said programs, such as the university’s plan to become a top-20 public research institution by 2020, would not be successful without state dollars.

“This year’s full funding of the Top 20 Business Plan by the General Assembly has been critically important in our efforts to increase faculty numbers, lower class sizes and continue increasing research efforts that will help Kentucky,” Todd said in a statement to the Kernel last month.

The state must “quicken the pace” to achieve better unity among universities and other goals of the act by its 2020 deadline, Adkisson said.

One of the areas the state needs to improve in is college affordability, which he said is as much an image issue as a monetary issue.

“In one sense college may be affordable, but parents around the state may not think so,” he said.

The report has recommendations but there is no call for specific dollar amounts, Adkisson said.

“There is not a price tag on this plan, but it calls for a strategic plan,” he said.