As Kentucky’s public universities cut positions and lay off faculty, a new report shows Kentucky has slashed higher education spending more than most states in recent years.
According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Kentucky ranks 6th-worst among states in the percent change to higher education funding per student since 2008. The amount of state funding provided for each student in Kentucky has dropped 32 percent, or $2,771, since the recession in 2008.
As the overall economy improved, Kentucky is one of only three states, along with Arkansas and Vermont, to cut higher education funding for the past two years in a row.
“As Kentucky continues to cut, we start reversing all the gains made by past education improvements,” said Ashley Spalding, a research and policy associate at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy who collaborated on the report. “We are sliding backwards, when what we should be doing is investing in our education institutions, which in turn is investment in our communities. We should follow the lead of the majority of states and start increasing funding for higher education again, instead of balancing our state budgets on the backs of students.”
Kentucky is one of eight states to cut per-pupil spending by more than 30 percent since 2008. In addition, it’s one of 11 states that are continuing to cut higher education in the current year, compared to 37 states that are increasing funding. Five states increased per-student funding by more than 10 percent this year.
As state spending declines, tuition has increased to help make up the lost revenue.
“More young people could afford college and gain for themselves and the economy the benefits of greater earnings if states reversed their declining support for higher education,” said Michael Mitchell, senior policy analyst at CBPP and lead author of the report.
Kentucky’s public universities have been cut more than $170 million since 2008. The state’s higher education governing agency, the Council on Postsecondary Education, recently set caps on tuition increases for the fall, ranging from 4.6 to 6.1 percent. But thanks to a 4.5 percent cut from the state over the next two years and increases in many fixed costs, the schools still face a combined $64.8 million hole.
Universities have begun announcing their fiscal measures to deal with the funding gap, including program closures and layoffs. On Wednesday, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System announced it was cutting 500 positions, including about 170 layoffs of faculty and staff.
Most recently, Northern Kentucky University announced that it would fill an $8 million budget gap by cutting 31 empty faculty positions and six faculty, along with 32 vacant staff positions and 36 staff.
“The financial challenges we face are not new,” NKU President Geoffrey Mearns said in a letter to campus Wednesday. “In fact, each year since 2008, due to increases in pension costs and reductions in state support, we have been forced to reduce our investment in academic programs, student support services, and salaries and benefits for faculty and staff.”