Their work is not finished, but in both the House and Senate budgets, the General Assembly answered that question with a resounding "no." And as we enter the final days of the session, the affirmation of the legislature's commitment to education is a promising message that should not be ignored.C-J Photo by Michael Hayman
House and Senate conferees remain divided on whether to raise taxes, how to address the state's pension problems and other issues. But one message is clear: Both chambers are willing to make tough decisions to make higher education and financial aid for college students a top priority. They understand our mission to double the number of Kentuckians with college degrees will transform lives and boost Kentucky's economy.
Now it is up to the higher education community to ensure that the General Assembly's decisions on our behalf will be worth the effort.
At U of L, we are putting the finishing touches on our new Strategic Plan to guide us to 2020 -- the date set for higher education reform. This plan will build on the successes of our Challenge for Excellence (1998-2008), our plan that has resulted in better students, an accomplished faculty, growing research and a profound impact in our community.
Our new Strategic Plan will continue to propel U of L toward status as one of the nation's premier metropolitan research universities. Restoration of base budget funding will enable us to provide courses necessary to keep students on track toward graduation. Double-digit tuition increases were certain to follow a 15 percent cut; now we will be able to lower tuition increases to a level that will not make it as difficult for some to finish their education or discourage some from starting at all.
Combined with maintenance/increases (depends on what they agree to in conference) in KEES scholarships and other financial aid programs, the support network that makes college more affordable will not be pulled out from underneath students struggling to pay for their education.
Additional funding for Bucks for Brains will enable us to continue to develop an economy that can attract, employ and retain a highly educated population.
Since the inception of Bucks, U of L has hired more than 40 of the nation's top researchers in areas ranging from logistics and distribution to spinal cord repair. These outstanding faculty, and the dozens of faculty and support staff who have joined them, are conducting research that promises to have a dramatic impact on the lives of Kentuckians and on the state's economy.
They already are having a significant economic impact. U of L's Bucks for Brains researchers already have attracted more than $144 million in research funding, with an economic impact of more than $320 million. That's more than triple the state's $100 million investment.
The General Assembly has embraced many U of L initiatives that are improving the lives of Kentuckians. It has again provided funding for the Dataseam cancer research grid, a unique partnership between private enterprise, U of L, Morehead State University, the commonwealth and Kentucky public schools to support and accelerate cancer research.
Dataseam links student workstations in public schools across the commonwealth -- harnessing previously untapped computing horsepower to facilitate the Brown Cancer Center's drug commercialization at a fraction of the time and cost. The grid allows U of L cancer researchers to perform 300 years of research in a single month.
Dataseam gives Kentuckians "bang for their bucks," as nearly 200,000 students in underserved regions of the commonwealth receive modern computers to drive 21st Century learning, 2,000 teachers receive professional development on engaging students in learning through technology, citizens receive training for high-paying technology-driven jobs, and the public receives health benefits as U of L researchers find answers to cancer.
In these tough economic times, the budget for the next biennium is one that seems certain to say that education is a priority. This is important, as Kentucky has lingered in the bottom rankings of educational attainment and performance.
It's something to celebrate. And, it's something for which I want to say a heartfelt thank you to the General Assembly.
Our legislators have decided we cannot afford the opportunity lost and instead have stepped up to support higher education. You have our pledge at U of L to make sure you see a return on your investment.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
This from U of L President James R. Ramsey in The Courier-Journal: