Adding a new 4-year college in southeastern Kentucky is ‘problematic’

Published 4:42 pm Monday, December 4, 2023

KENTUCKY TODAY

A Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) study ordered by the General Assembly on the feasibility of opening a new four-year public university in southeast Kentucky, finds the alternatives suggested by lawmakers would be “problematic.”

Three alternatives posed by Senate Joint Resolution 98, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, included building a new public university, creating a new satellite campus of a regional university, or incorporating an existing private university into the public system.

In its analysis, CPE determined that the Kentucky River Area Development District, comprised of Breathitt, Knott, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Owsley, Perry, and Wolfe counties, would provide the best location for an increased university presence; with Hazard offering the greatest accessibility to potential students in the region.

However, their findings say, “Each of the three alternatives posed by SJR 98 is in some way problematic,” and explained:

• Constructing a new comprehensive university would be prohibitively expensive, and its long-term viability (especially in terms of enrollment) would be uncertain.

• In the last several years, enrollment and degree production at the area’s regional satellites have declined.  It seems unlikely a new regional satellite would receive adequate resources and attention, especially since satellite services are often the first target for cuts.

• Acquisition of the private universities in Southeast Kentucky: Alice Lloyd, Union College, University of the Cumberlands, and University of Pikeville, would be a complicated legal process; and the private schools have expressed little interest in this option.

CPE offered other possibilities, which include:

• Hazard Community and Technical College) could be allowed to offer select bachelor’s programs at  Kentucky Community nd Technical College institution.  However, it would be difficult to prevent other KCTCS schools from seeking to expand their program offerings, leading to mission creep and intense competition for a limited pool of baccalaureate students.

• HCTC could become a stand-alone college or university offering both sub-baccalaureate technical programs and a few bachelor’s programs (in line with area workforce demand).  This is CPE’s preferred approach, but cannot provide an unqualified endorsement without greater stakeholder engagement, further analysis of the benefits and risks, and a deeper understanding of student demand.

Their bottom line, while CPE endorses an increased four-year presence in Southeast Kentucky, it does so with a strong caveat: without a comprehensive economic and workforce development strategy, a new university will not yield the desired results for the region.