College enrollment hike encouraging

When jobs are scarce, college classrooms fill up.

That conventional wisdom probably accounts for part of the 4 percent uptick in enrollment in Kentucky's colleges and universities since this time past year.

It does not explain the 40 percent surge over the last decade.

More students than ever — an estimated 270,000 — are enrolled in the state's public and private colleges, the Council on Postsecondary Education reports.

As usual, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System led the way with an increase of more than 6,000 students or 6.1 percent.

Enrollment at the University of Kentucky is up by 780 students or 2.9 percent to 27,951.

The steady flow of students to the state's campuses is one sign that Kentuckians increasingly recognize the value of higher education.

It's also more validation for the higher education reforms and funding that Kentucky enacted in 1997.

Among the reforms was creation of KCTCS, which has grown by 79 percent over the past 10 years to 106,500 students.

Since the initial excitement, the state's support of higher education has flattened or been spotty, especially during this most recent dramatic dip in revenues.

The universities and colleges have compensated by shifting more of the cost onto students and families through tuition increases.

It's still a good investment.

The median weekly earnings of workers with bachelor's degrees in 2009 were $1,137 — or 1.8 times the average earned by those with only a high school diploma and 2.5 times the earnings of high school dropouts, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Kentucky still has a long way to go. Only three states have a lower percentage of college graduates among residents 25 or older.

Timid politics and a weak economy have kept the legislature from doing more to erase Kentucky's education deficits.

But you've got to hand it to the state's students and families — they're doing their part.