LOUISVILLE — The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education's preliminary count of 2010 graduates from the state's public universities on Friday showed that the number of all degree holders increased 9.3 percent in the state over the previous year.
But three schools — the University of Kentucky, Morehead State University and Murray State University — had fewer graduates across nearly all levels when compared with last year's numbers.
Western Kentucky University was one that had reason to brag about its progress, while others are developing strategies to increase the number of graduates under the state's Double the Number program, which aims to double the number of college graduates living in Kentucky by 2020.
But former Gov. Paul Patton, chairman of the panel and the president of Pikeville College, appeared frustrated by the numbers and said that they are not enough to allow a real assessment of how well Kentucky is doing in its campaign to improve educational attainment. And he wondered aloud why the council set such great stock by the Double the Number idea.
"It is impossible and impractical to double the number of bachelor's degrees in Kentucky by 2020 because you've got all these old people who aren't even involved in the process," Patton said.
"You can't make up for 100 years of neglect in 20 years," Patton said.
Patton wants more detail about how many young Kentuckians have bachelor's degrees. The state's widely touted goal of doubling the number of bachelor's degrees by 2020 wasn't really the point of his 1997 landmark education legislation, House Bill 1, he said.
That bill increased the budgets of the state's colleges, transferred management of community colleges from UK to a new board, and created the Council on Postsecondary Education, a more powerful governing organization than its predecessor.
"How does this compare to the national average?" he asked council staffers about their numbers.
Specifically, Patton said, he wants to know how many 22-year-olds in Kentucky have bachelor's degrees, rather than how well colleges are doing at increasing the numbers of graduates each year. The Council wasn't able to come up with those numbers immediately.
The 2000 federal census said that the number of residents in Kentucky over age 25 with college degrees, at 17.1 percent, was far behind the national rate of 24.1 percent.
While the number of bachelor's and master's degrees awarded were down at UK for the year, they still ran substantially ahead of the numbers UK was awarding a decade ago. And UK still leads the state in the number of degrees and certificates awarded, at 5,502 versus the University of Louisville's 4,624 and Western Kentucky University's 4,271.
A UK academic spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
WKU's number of graduates has grown astronomically over the last decade at both the bachelor's and master's levels.
WKU awarded 2,869 bachelor's degrees in 2010, or 20.4 percent more than in the previous year and 63.7 percent more than a decade ago. The number of master's degrees given was 974, up 28.7 percent from last year and up 89.5 percent from 10 years ago.
Bob Skipper, WKU's media relations director, said that majors that have grown since 2004 include biology (up 351 students), psychology (up 166), agriculture (up 109) and nursing (up 98).
WKU president Gary Ransdell said in a release that the numbers reflect the university's efforts to retain and graduate students: "They find us an attractive place to invest in their education. ... Degrees awarded is a significant measure of success for a university."
But even as WKU boomed, Morehead State University has had to implement plans to make sure that its base grows in the future.
Morehead had 904 bachelor's degree recipients in 2009-10, a 2.8 percent decrease over last year and a decline of 6.9 percent from a decade ago.
Wayne Andrews, who has been Morehead's president since 2005, said the university has stepped up outreach efforts to area high schools to address the needs of students who may come in unprepared in areas such as mathematics.
Morehead also runs a "Summer Success" program in which students who need additional preparation for college-level work can live on campus and get a head start.
"What we're trying to do ... is focus dramatically on improving the quality of the incoming student so that the student has a high probability of success," Andrews said.