If making the University of Pikeville a state university is a good idea, it will still be a good idea next year or the year after that.
Consider: Nine years elapsed from the first official mention of making the University of Louisville a state university until it became one. The pros and cons were weighed by two higher-education study commissions appointed by governors Bert Combs and Edward Breathitt. The legislature in 1966 authorized a study committee that hired a New York consulting firm to advise on how to bring U of L into the state system. In 1968, the legislature approved a resolution that U of L should become a state university in two years. In 1970, the legislature and Gov. Louie Nunn made it official.
The first public mention of the University of Pikeville becoming a state university was a few days before Christmas. On Jan. 17, House Speaker Greg Stumbo filed House Bill 260, which would bring UPike under the state's wing and create a southeast Kentucky educational attainment fund to receive a portion of the coal severance tax from 12 counties. A Denver consulting firm was hired by Gov. Steve Beshear's office to produce a study of the proposal and its implications by March 15.
No strategic plan by the state Council on Postsecondary Education has ever been considered, much less recommended, making UPike a state university or adding another four-year institution to the already underfunded system.
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This session of the General Assembly will adjourn by the end of April.
Arriving at such a momentous decision in four months would be precipitous, to say the least. It's really not even enough time for the consultants to complete a study.
The House Education Committee will hear a pitch this week from UPike president and former governor Paul Patton and Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. House education chairman Carl Rollins, D-Midway, has said he wants to delay a committee vote on the proposal until after the study is completed, but even that would require a rush job.
There's no way to thoroughly answer the multitude of questions this proposal raises between March 15 and the end of the 60-day session. Nor is there time to consider the array of alternatives for achieving the laudable goal of increasing education attainment in Southeastern Kentucky.
Stumbo's power as House speaker bestows on HB 260 political advantages that could drown out any real debate on its merits. Stumbo and lawmakers should not allow politics to dictate a quick decision. Creating a state university is a 100-year commitment, at minimum.
The historic higher-education reforms that Patton and the legislature achieved in 1997 were supposed to replace politics with sound processes aimed at producing strategic policy for raising Kentucky's education levels to the national average.
To railroad through this kind of decision — especially in closed, 11th-hour budget negotiations — would make a mockery of higher education reform. If it's a good idea, it can withstand real scrutiny.