Making UPike public would have minimal impact, study says

lblackford@herald-leader.comMarch 15, 2012 

Making the University of Pikeville a public school would not help significantly improve the number of Eastern Kentucky students with college degrees, according to a study on the issue released Thursday.

Instead, the consultants agreed with the current legislative plan to use coal severance dollars to give scholarships to upper-level students to help them complete their degrees.

In addition, the report by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems or NCHEMS says the state should establish two new regional college centers, similar to the University Center of the Mountains in Hazard. These satellites could combine public, private and community college courses at Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Prestonsburg and Southeast Community and Technical College in Cumberland.

The report comes just two weeks after the main supporters of the push to make UPike public — House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg and former Governor and UPike President Paul Patton — concluded that there was too much opposition to the idea.

Instead they agreed to a compromise, now in House Bill 260, that will award scholarships to students from Eastern Kentucky who have completed 60 credit hours and attend school in the region.

Both said they wanted to raise the college attainment level in the region to the state average. Neither Patton nor Stumbo was immediately available for comment Thursday.

The report — commissioned by Gov. Steve Beshear earlier this year — says that expanding UPike to its capacity of 2,000 would accommodate less than a quarter of the additional 4,900 students needed to reach the state college attainment average. In addition, the report says that because 85 percent of UPike graduates come from Pike, Floyd or Letcher counties, the move would have a limited impact on the entire 16-county region.

The report said that making UPike public would "set a problematic policy precedent for the Commonwealth. It could be the catalyst for efforts to establish new public institutions in other areas of high need."

Beshear said in a statement that he was reviewing the report.

"However, this report clearly confirms that there are unmet educational needs in Southeastern Kentucky, and its recommendations appear to support an initiative utilizing severance tax revenues similar to House Bill 260," Beshear's statement said.

"I will work with the General Assembly, the Council on Postsecondary Education and the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities to meet those needs."

The report also laid out long-term recommendations that included creating "responsibility" regions for schools rather than "protected markets" for specific universities, as well as developing and funding a protracted strategy to deal with all regions that need to improve college attainment rates.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford

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