FRANKFORT — Wearing yellow T-shirts and waving signs, community college students, instructors and officials lined Capitol balconies and swarmed the rotunda Thursday.
The mantra of "No more cuts" was chanted by more than 600 at the rally.
"That is so important to each and every one of you because that (affects) tuition," said Michael B. McCall, president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. "We want to make sure it's more affordable for you."
Enrollment in the KCTCS system, a network of 16 colleges and 68 campuses statewide, has ballooned to more than 100,000 students this year. At the same time, state budget cuts during the last two years have put state funding close to 2001 levels.
Lawmakers looking to balance a two-year budget with a $1.2 billion shortfall and House Democrats have suggested a 2 percent cut to public universities and colleges in 2011 and flat funding in 2012.
With cuts looming, the KCTCS system has marshaled a lobbying push this session that included sending representatives from one of its colleges to Frankfort each week.
The culmination of the efforts was Thursday's rally, at which the governor declared it "KCTCS Day."
The system is spending $1.3 million on marketing and lobbying efforts, which include T-shirts, packets of materials, and radio and TV ads, said Terri Giltner, the system's director of marketing and public affairs.
That represents 0.1 percent of the administrative budget, Giltner said.
KCTCS isn't alone. Public universities have had a consistent presence at the Capitol this session.
U of L, for instance, distributed to lawmakers inch-thick flip books describing research done collaboratively by the University of Kentucky and U of L in dozens of areas. U of L produced 350 booklets and paid the $4,000 tab. KCTCS, which requested more than $200 million in funding from the legislature, wanted to make a bigger splash this session because many people don't know how many students the system touches, McCall said in a recent interview.
More than 30 students from Bluegrass Community and Technical College's Coop er Drive campus in Lexington lined the tunnel between the Capitol and the Capitol Annex before the rally to get that message across.
Budget cuts would further cripple the nursing program at BCTC, which already has a staffing crunch, said James Johnson, a BCTC nursing student from Louisville.
Andrew Talbert, a business and administration major and Henry Clay High School graduate, said he's worried that state cuts to higher education would dry up financial aid — money he said he relies on to cover his tuition at BCTC.
Later, McCall told those at the rally that he was hopeful the strong presence of community college students and staff — most wearing T-shirts declaring "KCTCS: Higher Education Begins Here" — would send a message to lawmakers.
"This is probably the most momentous day in my 11 years" as president, he said. "I can't tell you how proud I am to be here."