Legislative Update - Postsecondary Education
Twenty-two years ago this month, the General Assembly adopted one of the most far-reaching laws in the Kentucky’s history when it revamped our public postsecondary system. As part of that work, it set a series of ambitious goals to reach by the year 2020.
If that seemed a long time down the road in 1997, it doesn’t seem too far now with seven months to go. The good news is that, in many ways, we’ve made significant progress toward what we hoped to achieve. Still, unforeseen hurdles along the way have made it more challenging than we would have thought back then, when state revenues were plentiful and college costs were relatively low.
Over the last several weeks, there have been two major reports made public that give us a great snapshot of where we are doing well and where we need to do better. One is from the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), which has provided oversight of our public colleges and universities since the 1997 reforms, and the other is from the General Assembly’s Program Review and Investigations Committee.
The most comprehensive graphic can be found near the end of the CPE report, where the education-attainment level of adults aged 25 to 64 in Kentucky is compared with the nation overall.
These bar graphs show that the commonwealth has a much higher percentage of citizens with a high school diploma; we have twice as many with a postsecondary workplace-training certificate; and we’re just under the national average in the percentage having a two-year associate’s degree.
We still trail the nation, however, when counting adults with a four-year college degree, with our rate of 15.4 percent below the country’s 21.1 percent.
The numbers of those heading to college right out of high school show a mixed-bag as well. Just over half of the Class of 2017 went to a Kentucky college or university that fall, which was actually a lower percentage than the three graduating classes preceding it. (This does not include those heading to college in other states.)
The good news is that most of those who do go to college right out of high school are prepared for the challenge. Almost 85 percent of the Class of 2017 that went full-time to a four-year school in Kentucky met ACT and other academic benchmarks, and the rate for students going to a Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) school was almost 64 percent, up significantly from the 46 percent who attended as college freshmen in 2014-15.
One area where Kentucky has roughly matched the national average is the decline of older students attending community and technical colleges. This number has gone down by more than a third across the country since 2010, and a little more than a fourth here in Kentucky. An improving economy is likely the chief reason for this downward trend.
Increased college costs are undoubtedly a factor, as well. Both the CPE and the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee cite numerous statistics underscoring the impact that these ever-increasing expenses have had on students and their families.
Consider that, 20 years ago, the state covered two-thirds of tuition costs at public colleges and universities; now, the state provides less than a third.
College in Kentucky is still more affordable than you’ll find in many other states, but we’re just one of 11 whose state funding still hasn’t bounced back to pre-recession levels when adjusted for inflation.
There has been progress in other ways. Our colleges have better controlled tuition costs in recent years, and most high school students now earn lottery-based scholarships for their good grades in high school. Also, taking college credit courses in high school saves students and their families time and money once in college.
Still, I believe it’s vital we find more money for higher education during the budget process next year. We can’t expect our colleges and universities to meet our expectations without additional revenue, and with nearly every new job requiring at least some college experience, we do ourselves a disservice if it is priced beyond what many families can afford.
If you have any suggestions on how we can make this happen, I would like to hear from you. My email firstname.lastname@example.org, and the toll-free message line is 1-800-372-7181. If you have a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305.
Thanks for all you do and holler anytime.