Ky. Voices: Revised UPike bill isn't perfect, but it's good enough — for now

Paul E. Patton, a former Kentucky governor, is president of the University of Pikeville.
Paul E. Patton, a former Kentucky governor, is president of the University of Pikeville.

Make no mistake about it, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, state Rep. Leslie Combs and I are still convinced that if there had been a state university in southeastern Kentucky for the past 90 years, as there has been in northeastern Kentucky, our region and the state would be a much different and much better place today.

We will not give up on that goal, but we will not let the perfect deny us the good. And that is what the revised House Bill 260 is.

While a state university in any region has a multitude of positive impacts on that region, a major argument on behalf of taking the University of Pike ville into the state university system was, and still is, to give our students the opportunity to attend a good university within the region and at the same cost as students in the rest of the state pay to attend a state university.

HB 260 will bring us closer to that goal.

The revised proposal will provide as much as $6,000 to students from the region to attend one of the four colleges in the region that grant bachelor's degrees: Alice Lloyd, Union, the University of the Cumberlands and the University of Pikeville. Now, students must leave the region to attend the more economical state universities, and many of them never return.

This $6,000 will make the cost of attending one of the four institutions comparable to attending a state university. Students could also receive a $2,000 scholarship to attend a state university extension campus that is located in the region.

The problem is not with the low-income students, although they will get a grant under the revised proposal.

Currently, a student with an 18 ACT score, a $1,500 KEES scholarship and from a family of four with an income of $30,000 a year will pay no tuition at the University of Pikeville and still have the scholarship available for books and other expenses. Any new grant can be used to pay living or transportation expenses.

That same student from a middle-class family with an income of $61,000 will pay $13,050 for tuition after receiving a $3,200 institutional grant from the university. The maximum grant under the revised HB 260 will reduce that amount to $7,050, almost exactly equal to the tuition at Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky universities. We desire no advantage over these two great universities, just equality.

If it is wrong to give grants to students from middle-class families, then it is wrong to give $1 billion to the state universities because that is a subsidy to every student enrolled there, poor and wealthy alike. The middle class should be served by government just like the poor. The University of Pikeville has served low-income families for 123 years; 68 percent of students from this region receive state and federal need-based grants, but 32 percent do not.

No, this bill will not do as much as the original bill. It devotes only $525,000 to helping high school and community and technical college students work toward a bachelor's degree instead of the $2 million the University of Pikeville planned to spend.

But then it anticipates only half as much money. It will give our students the option to get a bachelor's degree in our region at about the same cost they will pay if they chose to attend one of the other good state universities outside the region, but it won't hold them hostage to the region by forcing them to either come back or repay a forgivable loan.

This is not a cure-all. It is very narrowly focused on making the last two years of a four-year bachelor's degree course of study in the region cost-competitive with the same course of study outside the region.

It will not generate anymore money to these in-region colleges than they will receive if the student chooses to pay the full amount to attend the school without the new grant. It will result in more of our students getting a bachelor's degree, and more of them will stay in the region.

Only time will tell how many.

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