UPike would deliver on state's long-neglected duty to Eastern Kentucky

12 Counties underserved by EKU and Morehead

December 10, 2012 

Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, is speaker of the Kentucky House.

  • At issue | Nov. 28 Herald-Leader editorial, "Public UPike? Still a bad idea; Shift would do more harm than good"

I would like again to respond to yet another editorial concerning the proposal to make the University of Pikeville a state institution.

While the paper cites the study that Gov. Steve Beshear ordered, the editorial failed to mention the underlying facts of the case.

To begin with, we propose that the primary service area for UPike be Pike, Floyd, Martin, Johnson, Magoffin, Knott, Perry, Breathitt, Leslie, Letcher, Harlan and Bell counties.

Currently, these counties are supposed to be served by Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky universities, the two public universities that have been charged with the responsibility of providing bachelor's degrees or higher opportunities to the kids in these counties for well over 50 years. Here are the results:

Percentage of Kentucky adults (25 or older) with a bachelor's degree or higher:

■ Kentucky average: 17.1 percent.

■ U.S. average: 24.4 percent.

■ 12-county average: 9.1 percent.

That's 8 percentage points less than the state average and 15.3 percentage points less than the national average.

This statistic is proof positive that the obligation to provide a way to attain a bachelor's degree through our state-supported system of public education is a dismal failure.

Even more troubling is that this failure exists even though the evidence shows the 29 public high schools in this 12-county region send 56.2 percent of graduates to college as compared to 55.2 percent for the entire commonwealth. The only logical conclusion to be drawn is that the area is well-served by the Kentucky Community and Technical College System but poorly served by Morehead and EKU.

The requirements of serving these areas are both statutory and regulatory. KRS 164.295, which speaks to the role of the six comprehensive universities, says they "shall provide research and service programs directly related to the needs of their primary geographic areas." (Also see 13 KAR 2:060.)

The facts are clear and undisputed; the 12-county college-going rate is almost identical to that of the state, but bachelor's degree attainment is nearly 50 percent lower. So whose fault is it? Whose responsibility is it? It's really that simple.

By that same measurement, per capita and job opportunities are just as disproportionate. Per capita income:

■ Kentucky average: $22,284.

■ U.S. average: $27,041.

■ 12-county area: $15,754.

The editorial quoted the study of last March but omitted some interesting findings concerning these 12 counties, such as:

■ The percentage of college-going students attending a community and technical school is nearly double the state average.

■ The percentage of high school students in the region going to private, four-year colleges (the only type currently based in the mountains) is also ahead of the state average.

In other words, these young men and women are taking full advantage of all that is offered and are yearning for more.

Making UPike a public school would not solve this problem overnight, but no fair person can argue that had this 12-county area had a state-supported university for the past 50 years, these educational and economic levels would be much closer or even exceed the current state and national averages.

No legislator, past or present, has a better record of supporting education over the past 30 years than I do. I am aware that some see this as an attempt to undercut higher education, but that is blatantly untrue.

I would only hope not to repeat the failure of the past as we go forward. That fits a popular definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

My vision for the future would be to do things differently. I just want every child in Kentucky — east, west, north, south, urban and rural — to have the opportunity of a full four-year degree, and it shouldn't matter where they live or grow up.

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