The University of Pikeville recently lost its bid in the state legislature to join WKU as Kentucky’s ninth public four-year university, but a new version of the bill still aims to benefit students in the area UPike serves.
In its new form, House Bill 260 looks to offer students grants that will make the price of private universities in Kentucky’s southeastern region, such as UPike, comparable to that of public universities.
The grants would apply to students seeking bachelor’s degrees at Alice Lloyd College, Union College, the University of the Cumberlands and UPike.
The hope is to keep students from leaving Kentucky’s southeastern region to pursue an education and never returning, UPike administrators say.
The bill has already passed the House with a majority vote of 89-7 and now moves to the Senate.
Originally, UPike’s move to a public university was to be paid for solely with coal severance dollars, money WKU is not eligible for. However, concerns arose as to how long a public UPike could depend solely on coal severance funds before also getting money from the state.
The grants proposed in the new bill will be funded by coal severance funds.
“The state’s not able to afford what we now have,” President Gary Ransdell said. “It’s just not practical to be discussing another public university to that financial equation.”
He said the bill in its new form serves higher education in Kentucky better than making UPike public.
“I think it’s a good compromise and achieves the goal of making higher education more accessible and more affordable in that region,” Ransdell said.
Robbin Taylor, vice president for Public Affairs, echoed Ransdell’s statements.
“As it stands now, HB260 provides students in those eastern Kentucky counties with some very good options for pursuing a four-year degree,” Taylor said in an email.
Brian Wilkerson, communications director for House Speaker Greg Stumbo, said the compromise is good for now, but “there’s still a very strong belief” that a public UPike would better serve the region.
“If we can get this compromise passed, let’s see how that does, and that may make the case for doing more down the road,” he said. “It’s the region’s money going towards the region’s cause.”