Ransdell should take offensive during state budget crunch

Students returned to Western last weekend amid the echoes of Gov. Paul Patton’s final State of the Commonwealth address.

Patton’s plea for the General Assembly to brighten Kentucky’s gloomy financial picture has particular resonance on the Hill, where one of the state’s fastest-growing enrollments will likely make due without increased state funding in 2003.

As legislators wrangle over a solution to a projected $509 million shortfall through 2004, President Gary Ransdell faces a daunting task. He must find ways to nourish Western’s booming applicant pool without eliminating or infringing the qualities of an institution that’s become so attractive to prospective students.

Ransdell says he plans to “play defense” in the capitol this year and hope for a payday in 2004.

But there’s no guarantee the money will come even then, and Western can’t afford to remain in a holding pattern.

Ransdell may have no choice but to defend Western in Frankfort, but the ball is in his court here in Bowling Green.

Instead of waiting for bickering lawmakers to pony up, Ransdell should prepare for the possibility of more bad news from the state. Meantime, he should make plans to support Western’s growth at home.

Western enjoyed a 50 percent rise in applications over the last two years, including a 30 percent spike since last year. But as enrollment nears 18,000, the state’s financial crisis acts as a sort of budget cut — the school has less money to stretch across a swelling student body.

But Ransdell has options. The creation of new revenue streams would generate funds which could then be substituted for the missing state money.

Beyond that, campus-based committees could focus on the reprioritization of Western’s financial needs.

Any money raised while the state isn’t giving us our due should be devoted to the preservation of the school’s recruitment promises. We think Western’s small class sizes, which have been a major selling point during the enrollment surge, deserve particular protection.

Renovating existing facilities or building new ones may have to move to the back burner. Everyone likes a nicer classroom, but when forced to decide between renovations or more teachers, we’d rather err on the side of academics.

If the state’s financial outlook does not improve, Randsell has hinted that Western may be forced to temporarily “increase selectivity” during the application review process. He may not want to call it a temporary enrollment cap, but we will.

If Ransdell goes on the offensive now, Western should be able to maintain its momentum. Then the state’s payoff — whenever it arrives — would seem like a much bigger score.

This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Herald’s 10-member board of student editors.