Should there be a state-supported university in Eastern Kentucky?
To me, the answer is obvious: yes.
The gold standard of education today is the bachelor's degree. The percentage of adults age 24 to 44 with a bachelor's degree in the 12 major coal-producing counties in Eastern Kentucky is 9.1 percent. In the rest of the commonwealth, it is almost double that, 17.1 percent.
If Kentucky is to realize its maximum potential, the educational level of Eastern Kentucky must be brought up to that of the rest of the state, and the educational attainment of Kentucky as a whole must be brought up to that of the nation.
An increase in educational attainment of this magnitude can only be accomplished by having an affordable, high-quality, comprehensive state-supported university in the coal fields dedicated to eradicating this educational deficiency.
Look at the percentage of the population with bachelor's degrees in rural counties with state-supported universities for 80 years or more, as compared to Pike County's 9.9 percent:
■ Calloway with Murray: 24 percent;
■ Warren with Western: 24.7 percent;
■ Madison with Eastern: 21.8 percent;
■ Rowan with Morehead: 21.9 percent.
These counties have also evolved from agricultural economies to diversified economies.
East Tennessee has East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, and it does not have our problems. Western North Carolina has Appalachian State University in Boone, and it does not have our problems. Northern West Virginia has a coal economy and West Virginia University and it does not have our problems.
And if we had an 80-year-old, state-supported university like the rest of the state, we wouldn't have our problems.
I am gratified that major state leaders see the need and are willing to consider the University of Pikeville as the vehicle to achieve this end. Any proposal will be subject to the approval of the board of trustees of the University of Pikeville.
However, I believe the board will agree to the transfer of all the assets and liabilities of the university (excepting the endowment) to a state university on an equal status with the six existing comprehensive universities and with comparable funding, considering difference in size. The replacement value of those assets will be nearly $200 million.
State support will cut our tuition by more than half and substantially increase the number of students achieving a bachelor's degree. All of Kentucky will benefit from that increase in intellectual capital.
Our medical school has proven that if we educate people from the mountains in the mountains, they will stay in the mountains to serve our people. The quality of health care in Eastern Kentucky is already significantly improved because of the presence of dozens of doctors educated at the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine, which is a part of the University of Pikeville and would be a part of this new university.
This same debate was conducted in Kentucky 40 years ago when Louisville and Northern Kentucky were not served by a state-supported university. Can anyone today imagine Louisville or Northern Kentucky not having a major state-supported university? Can anyone deny that such an institution would help Eastern Kentucky and thereby the entire state?
As House Speaker Greg Stumbo has said, "This is a no-brainer." I ask all concerned to rise above our individual perspectives and loyalty to particular institutions and look at what is best for the entire commonwealth.
This action would be the most important improvement in Eastern Kentucky since the construction of the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway. Combs saw the need and acted decisively, beginning planning even before he was sworn into office.
That is the kind of action which is needed today. The need is obvious. The vehicle is available. Action from the General Assembly is needed. All of Kentucky will benefit.