In this holiday season, I am reminded of the many reasons we have to be grateful as Americans and as citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Among our many blessings is a system of higher education that, even with its challenges, still sets the standard by which other nations are judged. Those of us who call Kentucky home can take pride in knowing that our own colleges and universities — both public and private — have improved their lot over the past decade-plus.
This is not to say that the commonwealth has arrived at the position of excellence that is both possible and desired. However, I suggest that we are doing a better job of preparing women and men for lives of work and service.
Whether they continue to live and work in Kentucky or move beyond our borders, it remains our chief responsibility to equip them for citizen-leadership.
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By this I mean that our college graduates are prepared not only to get a job and take care of their needs but also to go out and make a difference for good in the lives of others and in their communities.
Our constant improvement, however, both in Kentucky and across the nation, is not guaranteed simply because we wish it to be.
Indeed, a number of states have already allowed their systems to be weakened, and there are examples all across this great nation of public and private institutions that are suffering, unable to deliver a high-quality experience to the students who come their way.
While some might argue that this is simply Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest, I respectfully disagree. When any institution is diminished, we all lose. This holds true whether quality is sacrificed, access is compromised, or research is unfunded.
As a college president, I accept increased scrutiny over how we conduct our business. Hold us accountable, yes. Demand that we be transparent, yes. Require us to provide outcomes, yes. Implore us to be creative and efficient and relevant, yes.
However, as Kentucky's motto suggests: United we stand, divided we fall.
Keeping the system of higher education strong and vibrant is crucial to our future as a state, but getting better, stronger and faster requires a very intentional commitment by a team of key players. Legislators, elected officials, the business community, and college and university presidents must cooperate to achieve even greater success.
For our part, Kentucky colleges and universities have been steadfast in our commitment to sustaining quality during this period of reduced state support.
Kentucky's 19 independent colleges and universities collectively graduate one-fifth of students earning a bachelor's degree.
Delivering on the promise to fund our student financial aid programs is an absolute necessity. For our public college and university partners who educate the rest, the trend of reduced state funding must be reversed and funding lost over the last several years has to be restored.
Yes, I recognize fully that there are competing needs. However, guaranteeing support for higher education is in our mutual interest and crucial to the commonwealth's long-term welfare. I would go even further to say that education is the best investment in the promise of a brighter future.
As policy makers begin to deliberate on critical funding priorities over the coming year, my sincerest hope is that strengthening our system of higher education remains among our highest priorities.