Cuts could hurt local college

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By Brent Schanding

Kentucky's higher education leadership is calling Gov. Steve Beshear's proposal to slash college funding in the Commonwealth dangerously regressive.

In a letter, signed last week by each of the state's eight public university presidents and others, educators warned Beshear that 12 percent cuts to the Commonwealth's college system could harm higher education and stall system-wide reform efforts.

Additionally, Beshear has asked the state's community and technical colleges to slash budgets by as much as 3 percent to account for projected state revenue shortfalls over the next two years. Those $6.8 million in cuts would affect the 65-campus Kentucky Community and Technical College System, including Jefferson Community & Technical College's Shelby County campus.

While Shelby educators have not said where local cuts will come from, the school has not ruled out tuition hikes for the approximately 800 students at JCTC's Shelby County Campus.

"We are still in the process of formulating our plan," said Dr. John Wieland, director of the JCTC Shelby County campus.

Tuition at the Shelby Campus runs about $1,380 per semester for full-time students. Most of the students at the Shelby Campus are part-time, Wieland said.

The Shelby County campus operates adult education classes in addition to three technical programs, certification programs and associate degree programs.

"The cuts will have a serious effect on these students," Wieland said.

Other community and technical college directors indicated they would consider placing a hiring freeze on staff vacancies and cutting part-time instructors. The schools could also limit class offerings and enrollment, cancel summer courses or postpone equipment upgrades.

In a letter to Beshear, state educators said proposed cuts to higher education would set the state back nearly a decade and could result in fewer Kentuckians attending college and increased dropout rates, especially for the state's community and technical colleges.

A mandate by the Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997, requires the state's technical and community colleges to enhance workforce preparedness among its students and develop curriculum and programs that transfer to four-year degree programs.

"These cuts will make it difficult for us to accomplish the goals laid out in the KCTCS Plan for a Competitive Commonwealth," said Michael B. McCall president of KCTC system. "Hopefully, the state's revenue picture will begin to look much brighter in the coming months..."

That is unlikely, according to state legislators. Many are calling this biennium's budgetary shortfall the worst in Kentucky's history.

"Many governors come into office broke," House Speaker Jody Richards-D, Bowling Green said. "This one's broker than usual."

Richards said he and other House lawmakers would prefer the state to look at raising the state's cigarette tax -- currently 30 cents per pack -- instead of cutting education funding. But critics of that plan say it still will not solve all of the state's budget problems.

State government is facing a budget shortfall of $434 million this year and more than $500 million next year.

Beshear has already axed $78 million from the current budget, which runs through June 30. That includes about $34.5 million in cuts to universities.

Elementary and secondary education institutions were offered a reprieve this year, although Beshear has not ruled out any cuts to those programs next year.

Beshear briefly touched upon his goals to provide better education to more of Kentucky's kids at a private press forum last week in Frankfort. He said he would like to see more students going to college, and more need-based scholarship money available to them.

While Beshear did not expressly outline a plan to achieve those goals, he said that possible money from expanded gambling and casino -- one of his major platforms - will not be calculated into this year's budgets.

"I sort of had the impression the cupboard was going to be bare," said Beshear about this year's dire budget projections. "I just didn't know the cupboard was going to be gone."

Nevertheless, Beshear vowed that the state was not going to go backwards during his administration.