Pikeville move could affect WKU budget

Cameron Koch

The state may soon have another mouth to feed as the now-private University of Pikeville seeks to join the state’s public university system.

House Bill 220 was recently filed in Frankfort by Speaker Greg Stumbo and Rep. Leslie Combs, both Democrats who represent parts of Pike County. If passed, the bill would make UPike the ninth public four-year university in Kentucky, joining the likes of the University of Louisville, University of Kentucky and WKU.

Robbin Taylor, vice president for Public Affairs, said the primary concern with UPike becoming public is that there may not be enough state money to go around.

The bill comes as WKU recently learned it may lose $5 million in state funding as part of Gov. Steve Beshear’s proposed budget.

“To add another mouth to feed at this time is definitely of concern to us,” Taylor said.

The bill proposes to use coal severance dollars — money WKU is not eligible for — to fund the university once it’s public.

That is also still up for debate, as currently coal severance funds are returned to the Eastern Kentucky region to fund economic development projects.

Ann Mead, vice president for Finance and Administration, said if the bill is approved, UPike wouldn’t be cutting into the same pool of money that WKU receives from the state at first.

“Initially, it has a unique revenue stream,” Mead said. “Long-range, is coal severance tax going to be the only source of revenue to support that institution?”

There is a consensus that eastern Kentucky needs more economic development, and that comes with a more educated workforce. But there are other ways to achieve economic development, Mead said.

Several years from now, it’s unlikely that UPike would rely solely on coal severance funds to fund their operating and capital needs, Taylor said.

Beshear has commissioned an independent study to assess the need of another public university in UPike’s service area of 12 counties, which includes Pike, Leslie and Magoffin counties. Of these counties, eight already fall into the service area of Morehead University.

The study will examine whether or not UPike can meet specific requirements, the impact a new public institution would have on other public institutions in the commonwealth, alternative ways to meet education needs in the region and other factors.

UPike currently enrolls about 1,900 students. According to the bill, with coal severance as funding, tuition rates would drop from around $17,000 to $7,000.

WKU is in no danger of losing potential students to UPike, as the region it would serve is well outside of WKU’s service area, Taylor said. Only a few students from the counties a public UPike would serve enroll at WKU, she said.