Kentucky universities seek 8 percent funding increase from lawmakers

lblackford@herald-leader.comNovember 12, 2013 

Aerial - University of Kentucky Construction

Aerial photo of the University of Kentucky campus taken on Feb. 12, 2013. Photo by Faron Collins

FARON COLLINS

Kentucky's colleges and universities will ask the General Assembly to increase their budgets by almost 8 percent over the next two years, in part to offset having lost nearly a third of state funding since 2008.

When lawmakers begin their biennial budget session in January, the Council on Postsecondary Education will request an increase of $53 million in 2014-15 and $72.4 million in 2015-16. For the first time, part of that increase would be tied to the number of degrees produced by each institution.

"A large and growing share of future jobs will require college-educated workers," said Bob King, the council's president. "We must reinvest in higher education to develop the highly trained, skilled work force our state needs and to expand support for campus collaboration with our colleagues in K-12 education."

As public universities lost millions in state revenue, student enrollment increased 9 percent, or 13,000 full-time students, since 2008, officials said.

Even if the request is funded, it would leave universities below 2008 funding levels. To make up for declining state support, most institutions have had years of double-digit tuition increases. This year, the council limited tuition increases to 3 percent for all state institutions.

The council's request will be one of many made by state agencies that have seen budget cuts every year since 2008. Legislators have heard plenty of clamoring, particularly from K-12 education officials, who also want their funding restored to 2008 levels. That request would be worth about $272 million.

However, preliminary revenue forecasts for the state over the next two years call for modest growth: 2.7 percent for fiscal year 2015 and 2.8 percent for fiscal year 2016. That amounts to roughly $9.7 billion in General Fund revenue for 2015, or a $259 million increase from fiscal year 2014.

When lawmakers crafted a two-year budget in 2012, the Council on Postsecondary Education requested a 9.5 percent increase. Instead, higher education's base funding was cut 6.4 percent.

This year, the council is incorporating something into its funding request that lawmakers have frequently sought — a performance-based standard. Under the council's plan, about $36 million in new funding would be used to reward institutions for increasing the number of high-level degrees in areas such as science, technology, engineering and math. The formula also would reward institutions for degrees earned by underrepresented and low-income students.

University of Kentucky spokesman Jay Blanton said UK officials appreciated that King worked to get consensus on a formula for that funding.

He said UK President Eli Capilouto and University of Louisville President Jim Ramsey wanted to make sure the formula reflected the higher cost of producing degrees in areas such as science and technology.

"They're appreciative the model included a real recognition of what research universities bring to the table," Blanton said.

The council's request also includes $8.9 million to pay debt service on a $95 million bond issue to support the Bucks for Brains program, which helped finance university research and endowed chairs and professorships. Since 1998, the General Assembly has given $410 million, which was matched with private donations, for the Bucks for Brains program.

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

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