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Colleges urged to maintain goals

Even as Gov. Steve Beshear releases his plan Thursday morning to cope with the state's projected $456 million shortfall, the state's higher education chief says Kentucky's universities shouldn't abandon their goals to boost enrollment by 2020.

Beshear has planned a 10 a.m. news conference in the Capitol to lay out how to solve the shortfall with budget cuts, tax hikes or a combination of both. Public universities and state agencies submitted to Beshear draft plans to slice 4 percent of their funding last week.

Most of the universities' proposals called for slashing travel expenses, expanding hiring freezes and tapping reserve funds. But some of the universities also mentioned that they'd have to cap enrollment and shrink the amount of money available for student aid and scholarships.

Such moves could delay or derail their collective goal to double enrollment figures and award 800,000 bachelors degrees by 2020, the universities said.

"Capping enrollment would reduce access within the service region and delay the university's ability to reach its 2020 'Double the Numbers' goals," said Morehead State University's report.

But Richard Crofts, the interim president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, said Wednesday that another round of cuts shouldn't be used as an excuse to abandon long-term goals.

"This is not a time to say we've got to give up," Crofts said. "I just don't give up at half-time."

As of last year, total enrollment at Kentucky's public colleges and universities surpassed 212,000 — a 34 percent increase from 1998. when the higher education reforms took effect.

Still, Crofts conceded that enrollment could suffer if universities cut back on student aid and scholarships, as Morehead, Northern Kentucky University, the University of Louisville and Kentucky State University said they would probably have to do if their budgets for next year are cut.

"They may not purposefully limit enrollment, but given some of these decisions, its going to be very difficult for enrollment to go the way we want it to go," he said. "I understand that."

Crofts said he and the university presidents have talked briefly about whether to back a plan to raise revenue through an increase in the 30-cent-per-pack cigarette tax. No decision about weighing in was made, he said.