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Beshear names higher ed task force

FRANKFORT — Saying that no one in Kentucky with the drive and ability to succeed should be denied access to college because of cost, Gov. Steve Beshear formed a 25-member task force Tuesday to study affordability of higher education.

The group will produce two reports with recommendations for Beshear. The first, due by Jan. 15, 2009, will look at ways to reduce costs associated with college.

The second report, due by Sept. 1, 2009, will take a broader look at the long-term issue of how best to create stable state funding for public higher education.

Among other things, the task force will consider whether smaller tuition increases could be proposed in exchange for certain funding guarantees and meeting performance objectives, Beshear said at a Capitol news conference.

"Year to year we have not been consistent in delivering the support needed," he said. "A new road map must realistically consider the difficult budget circumstances we are in, but it must also create consistency, coherence and stability."

Beshear's Higher Education Work Group will be co-chaired by Lexington businesswoman Mira Ball and Pete Mahurin, senior vice president of Hilliard Lyons in Bowling Green.

University presidents from across the state will advise the work group.

Beshear said improving affordability and accessibility are important because more Kentuckians pursuing higher education is the chief factor in building a highly skilled and educated work force.

Only 17 percent of Kentuckians have bachelor's degrees. The national average is nearly 25 percent. By 2020, the national average is projected to be 32 percent.

Beshear mentioned four major areas of concern for the work group:

■ Making college more affordable. Residential tuition has increased by 10 percent a year over the last 10 years, compared with 7 percent in surrounding states, he said.

■ Making financial aid more accessible and easier to understand.

■ Easing barriers to transferring from community and technical colleges to four-year schools.

■ Determining appropriate levels of state support for higher education and outlining clear performance expectations for colleges and universities.

Former Gov. Paul Patton, who initiated major changes in higher education during his administration in 1997, will serve on the task force. He said it was premature to say whether more state revenue is the answer.

"We first have to look at the entire issue," said Patton, noting that he thinks the legislature is committed to supporting higher education.

Beshear said the first meeting of the work group will be the week of Nov. 10.