Higher Education Reform Review

Sep 7, 2011

A just released study on the progress Kentucky’s made in reforming higher education prompted a celebration today in Frankfort.  But, the party was tempered by a realization of what lies ahead. The study, which was done by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, measured the effectiveness of reforms enacted by the General Assembly in 1997.

As a consultant, Aims McGuinness was a key player when the legislature approved those changes.

“You’re really seeing progress in the youngest age group in the Kentucky workforce, the 25 to 44 year old group,” said McGuinness.

The reform effort tried increase the efficiency and accountability of state schools.  Much of it focused on the elimination of classes and programs duplicated at several state schools.  Another controversial aspect of higher education reform was an overhaul of community colleges.   They were taken away from the University of Kentucky and spun off into the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. 

As Governor, Paul Patton led the effort.  Patton was recognized during an event in the state capitol by current governor Steve Beshear.

“Governor Patton developed this vision, he developed this plan that set forth a strategy to put the commonwealth on the path to increased educational attainment and economic prosperity,” added Beshear.

Now president at the University of Pikeville, Patton admits much work remains.

“We are better, and we’re getting better faster than most other states.  Now, we have further to go.  We’re about halfway there.  If we continue this for the next ten –twelve years, then I think we’ll have an education system comparable to the rest of the nation,” said Patton.

Patton says the continued commitment of full funding of education must happen.  State today pays a smaller proportion of higher education than it did before reform.  Those schools now rely more heavily on student tuition. Patton says the burden of moving along with ongoing reforms will fall upon university presidents who he says ‘have to do the work’ and are the ‘people with their feet on the ground.’

For his part, Eastern Kentucky University President Doug Whitlock agrees more change lies ahead.

“This is almost gonna’ sound ironic, the twist I’ll have to put on this is we’re gonna’ have to keep doing what we’re doing, which is changing what we’re doing.  You know, we haven’t gotten to where we are by continuing to do things the same way,” explained Whitlock.

Relatively new to all this is University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto.  Capilouto, who started work this summer, says Kentuckians should be encouraged and proud of the progress made.

“I think it’s gonna take creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship.  We’re gonna have to use our resources in the most efficient and creative ways to deliver a quality degree in an even more competitive and global economy,” said Capilouto.

One of  Governor Beshear’s political opponents, Senate President David Williams also participated in the event. 

Williams called for changes in Kentucky’s tax structure.  The Republican says tax reform will create more jobs for Kentucky’s graduates.   The Republican adds a good education depends on a healthy economy.  Unless, it improves, the Republican worries higher education will lose ground.

“We are not able with our present economic system to import talent.  It seems we might be holding our own, but holding our own is just not enough,” said Williams.

Information gathered from this study now goes to lawmakers, who begin work on a new state budget next winter.  Given its upbeat message, University administrators hope it will attract more state investment in higher education.  But, like everything else, all agree that too will depend on the economy