December may be the mid-point of the school year, but for our public schools, colleges and universities, this particular month happens to be the start of a new era.
First, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education chose as its new president someone who spent the first half of this decade running the largest higher education system in the country: the State University of New York. Second, the Department of Education’s commissioner announced he would be stepping down soon due to health reasons.
These two positions are arguably the most important in state government after our elected leaders in the executive, legislative and judicial branches. They oversee thousands of employees who shepherd hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians from kindergarten through college and beyond. Making sure the right person is in charge is crucial, especially during this time of economic crisis, where doing more with less is a necessity.
The new leader of the Council on Postsecondary Education appears to have the background to thrive in this dynamic, since he previously served in New York’s legislature and was once that state’s budget director.
He is taking the helm almost at the midpoint of Kentucky’s goal to double the number of baccalaureate degrees we had in 2000 by the year 2020.
A lot of gains have been made since the General Assembly revamped our postsecondary system in 1997. Last school year, for example, our public colleges and universities gave out a record 45,904 degrees and credentials, which was a fourth more than they presented at the start of this decade. That figure includes a record number of doctoral degrees earned at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.
Earlier this month, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education said Kentucky had made progress in four of five categories used to gauge the success of postsecondary education in each state.
According to the report, we are first in the nation when looking at the rate of growth of adults between the ages of 25 and 64 who have a bachelor’s degree; more than a fifth of Kentuckians in this age group are now included in that category.
We are also seeing rapid growth in the percentage of first-time, full time college students who are earning a four-year degree within six years of starting.
These two statistics prove that more and more Kentuckians are doing their part to further their education. Our biggest challenge, however, is continuing to make that affordable. Families are seeing a much bigger bite out of their annual income when compared to just 15 years ago.
These are just some of the challenges and opportunities facing our new leader of postsecondary schools. The next leader of our elementary and secondary schools, whenever he or she is chosen, may have to focus on different issues, but the ultimate goal – educating Kentucky – is exactly the same.
As we in the General Assembly look for ways to weather this economy, we will be doing all we can to protect our schools. History has shown us that cuts in this area take a long time to heal, and we just don’t have time to waste.
If you have any thoughts or concerns about this issue or any other, you can always write to me at Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Representative Rick Rand