In vowing to oppose increased funding for higher education in Kentucky "until there is a resolution of equity for kids in Eastern Kentucky," House Speaker Greg Stumbo didn't quite say his idea of equity could only be reached by making the University of Pikeville a state school. But he did say it would be "the best option, in my opinion."
Perhaps Stumbo should revisit the report from a study commissioned by Gov. Steve Beshear when the UPike issue arose in late 2011. The report, issued in March by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, concluded that adding UPike to the public university system would be technically feasible, but would also:
■ "Have limited impact on increasing the number of baccalaureate degrees in the region;
■ "Not result in providing services to all parts of the... region;
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■ "Require significant changes in the UPike mission;
■ "Have a significant, negative financial impact on the other public institutions, presuming that the institution would ultimately be funded from the state General Fund;
■ "Require several years and significant resources for a smooth transition...with the result that the change would be unlikely to have an impact on the region for approximately a decade."
Best option? Hardly.
The best option for increasing Eastern Kentucky students' access to higher education, and an option the report lauded, involves scholarships. But not the scholarship program Beshear implemented for the current two-year budget period, which uses more than $2 million a year in coal severance revenues to fund scholarships for junior and senior college students from a nine-county region who attend college in one of those nine counties. It is way too flawed.
Start with the fact that it doesn't help students throughout Eastern Kentucky, just from those nine counties. Even in those nine counties, it doesn't help high school graduates get started in college. And perhaps most important, it doesn't assure the region any benefit from the education scholarship students receive. Once they get their degree, they're free to fly away and let some other part of the state or country reap the benefits of their education.
A better approach, one that could help the region develop the better educated workforce it needs to generate economic development, would be to use coal severance revenues to provide loans for students throughout Eastern Kentucky, those just starting as well as upperclassmen. Let them attend college wherever they wish. And make the loans forgivable for those who return to the region for a specified period of time. This way, the students and the region they grew up in get to benefit from their education.