Bill that would make UPike public gains support in House Education Committee
(From The Louisville Cardinal)
By Rae Hodge–
FRANKFORT – Former Governor and current University of Pikeville President Paul Patton believes 12 southeastern Kentucky counties are underserved by the state’s higher education system, and that it’s time for UPike to step up and take on that role.
Testifying before the House Education Committee on Feb. 21 in support of a bill that would do this, Patton said only 9.1 percent of Kentucky adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher are from the 12 southeastern counties of Bell, Breathitt, Floyd, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Perry, and Pike.
Under House Bill 260 sponsored by Rep. Leslie Combs (D-Pikeville), now-private UPike would deed over all of its land and buildings to the state — assets estimated to be worth $200 million.
The university would receive $13 million a year in coal-severance tax money from a fund normally used for economic-development projects in the 12 eastern Kentucky counties, rather than General Fund money, which pays for most higher education funding. The fund would also allow the university to decrease tuition from $17,000 this fall to around $7,000.
During the hearing, Patton was joined by Combs and House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg). Speaking in support of the measure, Stumbo said, “if you want the state to grow, and if you want to pull eastern Kentucky out of this cycle of poverty that it finds itself in, here’s a solution.”
Rep. Jim DeCesare (R-Rockfield) expressed his concern that the public would need more information to determine whether changing Pikeville’s funding is a good move.
Although Morehead President Wayne Anderson publicly opposed HB 260, other state university presidents have been silent since Feb. 17, when Stumbo requested 5 years of Morehead State University spending records, including those of the president and Board of Regents, for items like vacations, recreation, and country clubs.
At the time of publication, University of Louisville President James Ramsey had not returned The Louisville Cardinal’s call for comment.
However, according to an article in the Feb. 3 issue of the Glasgow Daily Times, Ramsey said “the need for more education opportunities in eastern Kentucky are real and need to be addressed”, adding “a drop of demand for coal could reduce coal severance taxes and that could raise a concern about using scarce General Fund dollars for an additional institution.”
A report from the Office of Institutional Research and Planning at U of L shows the number of students enrolled at U of L from the 12 counties was only 140 out of the total 22,249 U of L students in fall 2012.
The House Education Committee did not vote on HB 260 but is scheduled discuss it again Feb. 28. The Committee is not expected to vote on the proposal until after Mar. 15, when a study is due to be released about bringing UPike into the state university system.
PHOTO: Gov. Paul Patton (right), and Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville (left), answer questions from the House Committee on Education.