WKU President Gary Ransdell is confident the school will be able to grow its international student body over the next several decades.
But he admits it will become more difficult to do so as countries such as China and India become wealthier and begin to build more of their own universities.
“There are not enough colleges and universities to meet the needs in an awful lot of the countries that have growing economies and growing populations. Therefore, we’re a solution," the WKU President said. "Now, in another generation—in another 25 or 30 years—they may have built enough universities to meet their needs.”
Dr. Ransdell says WKU is actively recruiting in several countries where the school has previously not had a presence.
“South America is really an emerging market for higher education," Ransdell said during a break in Friday's Board of Regents meeting. "We’re looking at as many as 90 students from Brazil next year. We’re always looking for new markets. Turkey is an emerging market for us. Their economy is doing great, and their families are looking for a place to send their sons and daughters.”
WKU is working to recruit students from a school in far western Kentucky that is closing at the end of June.
Mid-Continent University in Mayfield announced this week that it will shutter due to financial struggles. All employees have been laid off, though many faculty members have volunteered to continue helping students who are set to graduate this semester.
WKU Provost Gordon Emslie says the school has been working since the announcement to reach out to Mid-Continent students.
“We’re offering students the ability to transfer here, we’ll waive the application fee, we’ll match their courses in their catalogue to our courses in our catalogue, to try to facilitate that transfer as much as possible," Emslie told WKU Public Radio Friday. "We’ll work with them on tuition and scholarships, and financial aid. And we’re going to go out to Mayfield someday next week.”
Emslie said a website has also been set up to help Mid-Continent students learn more about transferring to WKU.
Mid-Continent is a non-profit university with about two-thousand students. Most are non-traditional and take online courses.
The Office of the Kentucky Attorney General has also set up a website dedicated to helping Mid-Continent students. In addition, the AG’s office sent letters to Mid-Continent administrators reminding them of their obligation to maintain all records as the school prepares to close.
The $20 billion budget passed by Kentucky lawmakers underfunds teachers’ pensions, giving the system hundreds of millions of dollars less than requested to keep it afloat.
Public school teachers in Kentucky don’t get Social Security benefits. They can’t even claim their spouses’ either. So that makes their pensions all the more important.
But the already tight-as-a-snare-drum budget passed by lawmakers continues to underfund the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System by about half the amount they need to bring the system -- which is currently about $13 billion short -- into the black.
Beau Barnes is general counsel for the KTRS. He says that changes in federal accounting laws will only compound the problem.
“The sooner the funding issue can be addressed, the better, because the longer it takes, the more difficult it’s going to be to address because the funding status will continue to decline,” said Barnes. “The GASB accounting measure of unfunded liability would have the pension fund running out of money in about 2036.”
Barnes says he’s optimistic the situation won’t come to that, and is looking forward to working with the governor and the legislature to address a problem to which, so far, they’ve given little more than lip service.
Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education is already tailoring its next state budget request to include performance funding for state universities.
The General Assembly did not include the CPE’s request for performance funding in its two-year spending plan that awaits the governor’s signature. CPE President Bob King says the performance funding request was among several suggestions to bring more money to the state’s universities.
“One of those purposes was to create a pot of money that would be distributed to the campuses tied to the proportion of degrees that they produced,” he said. “And there was a premium for students who earned degrees in the STEM field—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—or in health fields because we know that our workforce needs people with those skills quite substantially.”
King says in addition to going over this legislative session’s budget to determine the tuition cap for state universities, the CPE is working on its funding request for the next session.
Gov. Bill Haslam says lawmakers still have a "ways to go" in reaching a consensus on his school voucher legislation.
But the Republican governor told reporters on Thursday after speaking at a higher education event organized by the Tennessee Business Roundtable that he's optimistic a measured approach to his proposal will prevail.
Haslam originally sought to limit the vouchers to students from low-income families attending the bottom 5 percent of failing schools.
On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee passed a version that would expand eligibility to low-income students in districts that have a school in the bottom 5 percent if the initial slots aren't filled.
The House version, which has stalled, would expand eligibility to the bottom 10 percent of failing schools if slots are left. Haslam acknowledged Thursday there's still work to be done in the House.
A bill that would allow persistently low-achieving public schools to convert to privately-run charter schools has cleared the Kentucky Senate.
The measure passed the Republican-led chamber by a 22-14 party line vote. It would allow certified teaching staff and parents to petition the school’s principal to hold a vote on whether a privately run charter organization should be in charge of the school.
Sen. Mike Wilson, a Republican from Bowling Green, sponsored the bill.
“It’s only allowed in conversions for these low-achieving schools, and schools do remain accountable to the local board, who is, that who is the contract is with, and it’s only for a period of five years,” said Wilson.
Wilson filed similar legislation last year, only for it die in the Democratic-controlled House.
Sen. Gerald Neal, a Democrat from Louisville, spoke against the bill on the Senate floor. He took issue with the notion that charter schools are a cure-all for education.
Arrangements have been announced following the death of a longtime WKU agriculture professor.
Dr. David Coffey passed away last Thursday after a brief illness. A remembrance ceremony will be held Sunday, March 30, at 2 p.m. at the WKU Alumni Center, and April 5 at 2 p.m at the Burkesville United Methodist Church.
Dr. Coffey’s cremains will be distributed to the WKU Chapel, the Coffey family farm on the Cumberland River, and Ecuador.
Dr. Coffey led numerous Study Aboard trips to Ecuador, Australia, Argentina, and Costa Rica. He gained a reputation as an outstanding instructor during his three-plus decades at WKU, with his course in rural sociology proving especially popular.
You can find more information on Dr. Coffey's life and remembrance ceremony arrangements here.