Kentucky Higher Education Investment, Or Lack Thereof

By: Dr. Darrin Wilson

The Commonwealth of Kentucky has a new biennium budget!  After months of negotiation, public relations efforts, and even protests, our legislature and Governor were able to agree on a two-year budget deal for the state. 

One of the most contentious and talked about aspects of the new budget was the budget cut to our public universities and colleges.  The Governor ordered institutions of higher education to cut their budget by 2% immediately and over the next two years they will have to cut their budgets by a further 4.5%.  The argument for the cut was about public sector employee pensions.  While we do have a public pension problem in Kentucky, the state also has growing revenue and some have questioned the need for these cuts. 

Since the ‘Great Recession’ in 2008, universities and colleges have taken a big hit in their budgets.  Using data from the Kentucky Office of the State Budget Director, the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy found that higher education in Kentucky has declined by 35.5% since 2008.  

Kentucky Center for Economic Policy

There are also some troubling numbers stemming from the budget passed a few weeks ago.  According to KCEP, Kentucky is only 1 of 3 states still cutting higher education; we are in the company of Oklahoma and West Virginia.  We are 1st in the nation for the amount of funding to universities and colleges we’ve cut per-student.  We also have the highest median annual community college tuition and fees in the region. 

When I teach public budgeting in our MPA program, I tell my students on the first day that the budget document is a statement of community values because the budget is not only an accounting document, it’s also a policy document.  The elected representatives developing the budget are stating which programs and services are the most important to their people.  According to the these budget numbers for higher education, the folks in Frankfort don’t feel higher education is much value to their people. 

Dr. Darrin Wilson is an Assistant Professor at EKU.  He teaches public budgeting, community and economic development.     

Published on May 24, 2016