Universities prepare to advocate for state funding

Funding graphic

A trend of decreasing state appropriations from Frankfort is being felt across the state of Kentucky by public institutions of higher education. Universities and colleges statewide are preparing once again to fight the trend. 

Since 2008 and the Great Recession, state funding for public higher education has been steadily decreasing. Currently, Kentucky sits right above West Virginia as one of the states with the lowest financial support for higher education, according to a report from Robert King, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education. 

This school year, presidents and advocates from several universities will be vying in Frankfort for more state funding as Kentucky prepares to approve its biennium budget for the next two years this spring. 

“What’s so important to the [Kentucky] Board of Student Body Presidents — and important for us as students to inform our legislators about — is that education is the cornerstone of our democracy,” said Student Government Association President Jay Todd Richey. 

Richey recently attended the 2015 Conference on Postsecondary Trusteeship in September to discuss higher education funding with other student body presidents, university and college presidents and Board of Regents trustee members from across the state.

“We have to commit ourselves to ensuring that higher education is a top priority in our Commonwealth,” Richey said. 

Though the size of the cuts has decreased since 2008’s 7.2-percent slash, universities and colleges across Kentucky are still scrambling to deal with budget shortfalls caused by the lack of state funding.

Many, including WKU, have raised tuition to bring in more revenue. For the 2015-2016 school year, tuition and student-generated revenue account for 67 percent of university budgets; the remaining 33 percent comes from state funding. This shows a difference of over 15 percent compared to funding during the 2007-2008 school year. Then, funding was equal: 50 percent each. These statistics come from presentation slides provided to Richey and other presidents at the Conference on Postsecondary Trusteeship.

Since 2008, WKU has increased tuition steadily. During the last two years, tuition has risen a total of 8 percent: 3 percent this year and 5 percent the year before.

President Gary Ransdell said in an August administrative council meeting that they will not be petitioning the Council on Postsecondary Education for larger tuition increases to deal with potential budget cuts, but tuition could still go up.

“I would not expect an increase in tuition beyond 3 percent next year,” Ransdell said at the meeting. 

Tuition increases are not the only way lack of money has been handled. Several programs — the Talisman, SGA and others — have seen deep budget cuts. Programs such as WKU Health Services have also been privatized to work with a smaller budget. The university signed a contract with Graves Gilbert Clinic in July 2014 to take over Health Services.

Ransdell said that since 2008, the university has seen $15 million in cuts, and another $15 million of the university’s money has been redirected into other obligations and priorities. Ransdell said the university has reduced spending by a total of $30 million since 2008.

“That’s why we will be working so hard in Frankfort to get a higher education funding model actually funded, and if we do that, WKU will fare well in that higher education funding model,” he said. 

Richey said much of the discussion at the conference he attended last month addressed declining state appropriations to higher education in Kentucky. 

Richey said almost all states have significantly cut funding for higher education since the Great Recession. The issue with Kentucky, however, is that the state has not reinvested in higher education to pre-recession levels. 

“That’s my big question: Are we just going to get to the point where there are absolutely no state appropriations for higher education? I certainly hope not,” Richey said. 

Ransdell, Richey and other advocates for higher education funding are working on proposals and funding models to take to the Council on Postsecondary Education and state government. They will try to turn the financial tide back towards higher education.

“We need more funding; everything comes down to that,” Richey said.