FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear ordered a study Tuesday of the proposal to add private University of Pikeville to the state's university system.
Beshear's office will request bids this week from consultants to conduct the study into making Pikeville a state-supported institution, Beshear said. The review is expected to take six to eight weeks, he said.
That time frame means the 2012 General Assembly will still be in session if it wants to address the issue. The legislative session begins Tuesday and runs through mid-April.
Former Democratic Gov. Paul Patton, who now is president of the University of Pikeville, is trying to get state money for Pikeville in part to help lower the school's $16,000 annual tuition. Patton said in a phone interview that he supports an independent study.
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"We're perfectly willing to have a knowledgeable and neutral party to review this," Patton said. "I think it should be done quickly, with the ultimate goal being what is best for Kentucky."
Beshear said Pikeville meets a regional need for quality education in Appalachia, and the school's growth illustrates its economic potential.
"Universities are economic drivers in their regions, producing well-educated and trained students who are prepared to enter the work force," he said.
Beshear said many students attend schools based on proximity to their homes, and many remain in the region after graduation.
"However, a thorough review of the advisability and feasibility of including this institution in the state university system is prudent and necessary," he said.
The review will address educational needs in Eastern Kentucky, the capacity of existing institutions to meet needs, the economic impact to the region, financial resources needed to convert to a state institution, and effects of the proposal on existing state universities, Beshear said. The study also will assess how the proposal would advance goals of the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997 and accreditation.
Beshear said Robert King, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, sent him a letter offering assistance and identifying issues that should be reviewed.
King recommended, Beshear said, that the review be conducted by an independent party because of a potential perception of a conflict of interest. Patton serves on the postsecondary education council.
Patton said last week that he probably will resign his chairmanship of the council.
Beshear said his office will select the consultant to conduct the review but will use the council in the review process.
The University of Pikeville enrolls about 1,100 full-time students from 80 Kentucky counties, 35 states and 16 foreign countries.
Founded in 1889 by Presbyterians, Pike ville offers a liberal arts and sciences education. It is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award associate, baccalaureate and doctoral degrees.