Bringing the budget home: Higher ed

Kentucky’s state colleges and universities are reeling from Governor Matt Bevin’s unilaterally imposed 2 percent late fiscal year budget cut, and in the face of 4.5 percent budget cuts as of July 1, and another 4.5 percent cut again next year. (The state’s fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.)

Here are some impacts so far:

  • Morehead State University’s employees are on unpaid furlough for five days, and 65 positions have been cut.

  • The University of Kentucky is expecting to lay off 90 staff. UK also is rolling back its subsidies for county extension agents’ benefits. County governments, if they can, will be expected to make up the difference.  

  • Eastern Kentucky University is implanting a 5 percent tuition increase, a hiring freeze and reducing employee benefits.

  • Murray State University is eliminating 42 positions.

  • Northern Kentucky University is eliminating 105 positions.

  • And the Kentucky Community and Technical College system is losing 506 positions across the state.

With the budget just embraced by the General Assembly, higher education funding will have been cut by 31 percent between 2008 and 2018 once inflation is taken into account.

Pam Newman, a KFTC and community leader in Jefferson County, is a student at Jefferson Community and Technical College. As the impacts at JCTC began to take hold and Newman saw some of the most inspirational instructors lose their jobs, she wrote tributes to her instructors and posted them on social media. Lifting up those instructors might not bring their job back, but it will help tell the story of why public investments in education are so important.

Sharing out the real and immediate impacts of these budget decisions, and the value of what Kentuckians want to protect, helps make the case for why elected representatives need to stand up for access to higher education for every Kentucky student. But in 2015, more than 62,000 qualified students were denied need-based scholarships because legislators chose not to allocate enough money. 

Greater impacts for low-income students

The impacts of these inadequate investments are magnified for low-income students and students of color, many of whom are then forced to take out loans for their education.

A recent report from the Kentucky Center on Economic Policy (KCEP) pointed out that in Kentucky, the average student loan amount has increased by more than 64 percent since 2008, and Kentucky now ranks third highest in the rate of student loan defaults.

Nationwide, 4 out of every 5 African-American students use loans to pay for school. In Kentucky, the average bachelor’s graduation rate in Kentucky overall is 49 percent. For students of color, though, it’s only 36 percent.

The biggest obstacle in making progress toward a more equitable access to higher education is political leadership. But as Kentuckians continue to speak out and stand up for tax and budget justice that allow for the investments in education that every Kentuckian deserves, it becomes more possible to make even that shift.

Over the course of the summer, KFTC chapters will be continuing to explore local impacts of statewide budgets. Contact a chapter organizer to get involved.

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