Challenges await new UK leader

University of Kentucky trustees were unanimous Tuesday in picking Eli Capilouto as the successor to retiring President Lee T. Todd Jr.

But the unanimity disappeared when the subject turned to a proposed 6 percent increase in tuition and fees for the next academic year, an increase approved by a 12-6 vote.

This split over a tuition increase illustrates one of the challenges awaiting Capilouto when he makes the transition from University of Alabama-Birmingham provost to UK president July 1: keeping higher education affordable for young Kentuckians in the face of eroding state support.

In 2001, state appropriations accounted for 25.6 percent of the UK budget. Today, state support accounts for 12.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the price students pay to attend UK has soared. When the increase approved Tuesday takes effect, tuition and mandatory fees for in-state students will have increased by 144 percent since the 2001-02 academic year.

A continuation of this trend at UK and the state's other public colleges and universities will price many young Kentuckians out of a college education, a circumstance that would have detrimental consequences for the economic development of the state.

Educational affordability is just one of the challenges awaiting Capilouto.

He will assume responsibility for moving UK along the path toward achieving the Top 20 public research university status mandated by the higher education reform legislation enacted in 1997. Part of this challenge involves achieving the full economic potential of Coldstream Research Park.

At the same time, Capilouto must ensure the basic undergraduate education function of the university thrives as well, so the faculty no longer feel they live in a "Valley of Death," far beneath the hilltops occupied by medicine, research and athletics.

Capilouto comes to UK at a time when it has $500 million in capital construction needs plus $50 million in scholarship endowment needs.

And of course, there is athletics. Keeping athletics programs in proper perspective at an institution of higher education has been a challenge that has stymied more than one UK president.

If Capilouto can untie or cut that particular Gordian knot, the other challenges he faces may seem minor by comparison.