Stivers has a question: Can southeastern Kentucky support a public four-year university? 

By: - February 22, 2023 5:35 pm

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers wants recommendations on possibly restructuring higher education. (Photo for Kentucky Lantern by Arden Barnes)

FRANKFORT — A resolution sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers would direct the Council on Postsecondary Education to explore changes to Kentucky’s public higher education. 

Stivers, R-Manchester, introduced Senate Joint Resolution 98 Tuesday on the last day to file bills in the Senate.

The measure calls on CPE to study how a public four-year university could open in southeastern Kentucky and if the Kentucky Community and Technical College System should continue to operate technical education while traditional academic subjects move to regional four-year public universities. 

“There’s a lot of questions, but that should be their (CPE’s) function, and we’re asking them to perform this function. Give us what you think the state of our higher education system is,” Stivers told reporters. 

The study would be due Dec. 1 to the Legislative Research Commission and distributed to the Interim Joint Committees on Economic Development and Workforce Investment and Education. The findings could be taken up by the General Assembly in the next legislative session, Stivers said. 

The measure would direct the CPE “to study the placement and services provided by public universities and community and technical colleges in the Commonwealth.” The study would focus on how higher education governance is structured as well as state needs projected over the next 20 years. The study would include recommended changes to the governance structure needed to meet identified needs. 

Specifically on southeastern Kentucky, the study would look at the impact of a four-year public university in the region as well as on existing regional Kentucky universities. Another area reviewed would be the prospects of a residential campus in southeastern Kentucky as a satellite of an existing public university or the state acquiring an existing private university in the region. 

CPE’s study would also review impacts on regional universities and prospective KCTCS students of continuing to have KCTCS “responsible for technical education programs but transferring responsibility for traditional academic subjects to the regional universities.

The resolution says southeastern Kentucky “is conspicuously without a public, residential, four-year university, hindering its ability to make the same economic progress as other regions of the state” and the region is looking for new opportunities in economic development and workforce strategies because of the coal industry’s decline. 

Currently, Kentucky has eight four-year public universities. KCTCS has 16 colleges at more than 70 locations statewide. 

In his comments on the floor Tuesday, Stivers said the legislature rebuilt Kentucky’s postsecondary education model more than 20 years ago. At the time, the community college system was under the University of Kentucky. In the decades since, postsecondary education has seen many changes, including a rise in technology for remote work. Today, “one glaring hole” is in Eastern Kentucky, which Stivers said is facing a large out-migration of population. 

The Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997 created CPE.

CPE was charged with reviewing how to meet industry needs through higher education years ago, Stivers told reporters. 

“Now we’re asking for them to look at and say what problems are there? And particularly in Eastern Kentucky, is there the need to look at a new residential four-year institution? Is there the opportunity to do something with a currently private institution? Is there something that should be done with maybe assigning parts of the community college system, KCTCS, to the regionals … ? 

A CPE spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon the council is reviewing the legislation. 

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McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.