education

Kentucky Making Progress Toward Top 20 National Status in Education

Sep 3, 2014
Kentucky Dept. of Education

The Commonwealth is seeing gains and losses in its race to reach top tier national status in key areas of education. In 2008, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence challenged the state to reach the top 20 by the year 2020.

The committee Wednesday released an update on the state's progress. According to the report, Kentucky is on track to meet the goal in areas like fourth and eighth grade reading, teacher salaries, and Advanced Placement credits. However, the state has lost ground in areas including eighth grade math and the share of higher education costs to families.

Prichard Committee Director Stu Silberman says it's well past time to act on tax reform and put more state resources into education. 

"You know we're making good progress,"  Silberman said. "I think we're accountable for the dollars that are being spent and when we are making good progress. That's the time to say, hey look we recognize that, we need to step in here and really help."  

With the proper state investment, Silberman says six years from now, Kentucky could crack the top 10 in education nationally. 

A new partnership between WKU and the University of Pikeville will offer new opportunities for students in eastern Kentucky to earn three master’s degrees in health-related fields. The deal announced Thursday will also open up Pikeville’s College of Optometry to WKU students

WKU President Gary Ransdell and UPIKE President James Hurley announced what they’re calling the “East Meets West” partnership. Speaking at the Pikeville campus, Dr. Ransdell said he began conversations with his Pikeville counterpart about a year ago over how the two schools could work together.

WKU will begin offering to UPIKE students this fall an online Speech-Language Pathology pathway program that includes all of the pre-requisite courses students needed to qualify for a master’s in Communication Disorders.

Also available to UPIKE students will be the WKU Master of Healthcare Administration degree, starting in the fall of 2015. The online program will allow current UPIKE medical students and those completing their residency program to finish both a master’s degree and their medical degree at the same time.

Clinton Lewis/WKU

WKU President Gary Ransdell says it’s every employee’s job to help the school retain as many students as possible.

Addressing faculty and staff at Friday morning’s convocation at Van Meter Hall, Dr.Ransdell cited examples of academic progress, including an increase in the average ACT score of first-time baccalaureate students.

But he added that the school is still allowing too many students to leave campus without finishing their degrees.

“We are graduating just over 50 percent of our students in six years and we are still losing 25 percent of each freshman class within one year of their initial enrollment. So, for our students’ sake—if not for our own financial stability—please become part of the solution to keeping our students at WKU until they graduate.”

The WKU President said he was concerned about the value of the school’s remedial courses that many freshmen take. Ransdell added he’s worried the school is losing students who return home after their first semester with only three to six credit hours.

ACT

ACT test scores for high school graduates in Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana all saw improvement this year.

The company that administers the test is calling the gains in Kentucky and Tennessee particularly promising.

Every high school graduate in Kentucky and Tennessee and nine other states takes the ACT as part of statewide assessment.  This year, both Tennessee and Kentucky saw a 0.3 percent gain in composite score as compared to 2013.

The composite score in Kentucky was 19.9, while Tennessee students scored a 19.8. 

Meantime, Indiana’s average composite score was 21.7, but only 40 percent of Indiana students took the test.

Kentucky is receiving a one-year extension for flexibility from certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind education act.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Thursday that the extension will allow Kentucky and four other states to continue classroom reforms they have adopted in order to improve student achievement. President Obama announced in 2011 that his administration was willing to grant waivers from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law to states that implemented their own education reforms.

In particular, the White House said it wanted to see states adopt changes aimed at closing the achievement gap between different groups of students and improving the overall quality of classroom instruction.

In announcing the extensions, the Education Department credited Kentucky’s new “Unbridled Learning” campaign, which is aimed at getting every student to graduate from high school either college or career-ready. As part of the Unbridled Learning effort, each school in the state is to chart its progress towards specific goals, and report results during regular staff and leadership meetings.

The other four states receiving one-year waivers from parts of No Child Left Behind are Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

WKU

The overwhelming majority of in-state students who get bachelor’s degrees from Kentucky’s public universities are remaining in the commonwealth.

A new report from the Center for Education and Workforce Statistics shows over 80 percent of Kentucky students who got a four-year degree from a state-funded school were working in the commonwealth a year later. On the other hand, only 30 percent of out-of-state students who graduate from Kentucky’s undergraduate programs stay in the commonwealth to work.

The report also gives a school-by-school breakdown of how many graduates stay in Kentucky versus those who leave the state, as well as a comparison of the average wages of each school’s degree holders.

You can see what the report had to say about the employment outcomes of WKU graduates here.

Charles McGrew, the executive director of the group behind the report, said schools can use the information to get a better idea of where their graduates are, and how they are doing.

“I think it’s difficult for faculty to know where all of their students go. Sometimes colleges do alumni surveys, but they may not be able to catch many of their alumni after the fact. So they don’t necessarily know how well they’re doing in the workforce, or possibly how long it takes to find a job, or whether they go on to graduate school,” McGrew told WKU Public Radio.

The price of a college education is soaring in America; so is the amount of student loan debt. President Obama has proposed regulations that would cap student loan payments at 10 percent of a graduate's income, and according to the latest Labor Department data, about a third of recent college graduates are either underemployed or jobless.

Tuition and fees at most community colleges are pretty reasonable these days, about $3,500 a year. Which is why the vast majority of community college students don't take out loans to cover their costs. But, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, a non-profit advocacy group based in California, nearly a million community college students who do need help paying for school don't have access to federal student loans.

A group of parents has appealed a decision by a Louisville high school to allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their sexual identities.

The Courier-Journal reports the Atherton High School site-based decision-making council will meet next week to discuss the appeal, which was filed by Louisville attorney Clinton Elliott, who is with the Christian-based legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.

The council voted last month to amend its policy after school Principal Thomas Aberli decided to allow a transgender student to use the girls' restroom and locker room. The student was born male but identifies as female.

The appeal says the school panel's decision was "inconsistent with state and federal law, inconsistent with concerns for safety and inconsistent with concerns for liability."

The WKU Board of Regents has approved a budget that gets nearly half of its funding from student tuition and fees. By a 9-2 vote Friday morning, regents passed a $392 million spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

The new budget contains a $3.1 million dollar cut to Academic Affairs, which includes the elimination of 26 vacant faculty positions.

WKU History Professor and Faculty Regent Patti Minter was one of the two who voted against the budget. She said while some can argue it makes sense that academic departments face the toughest cuts since they have the largest overall piece of the budget, such decisions are harming WKU’s ability to attract and retain the best teachers and researchers.

“All of this would impact the students negatively,” Dr. Minter told WKU Public Radio. “Because this is the core mission, this is why Dr. Cherry built this college on a hill in 1906. And as he said in the depths of the depression, in these times we have to cut out all the extracurriculars, and we have to get back to the basics, which if the academic mission.”

Less than 19 percent of the next WKU budget comes from state funding, with nearly 49 percent made up of student tuition and fees.

As part of the budget, the Regents also approved a 4.8 percent tuition increase for resident undergraduate students, who will now pay nearly $4,600 per semester. The spending plan also includes a one percent cost-of living adjustment for WKU employees, with a minimum increase of $500 per worker.

WKU President Gary Ransdell told reporters after Friday’s regents meeting that declining state funding for higher education is a trend that has to be reversed soon.

“If we can get to the point we’ve gotten beyond state budget cuts, that would be a modest satisfaction. The victory will be if we can finally get Kentucky to invest in higher education, because it’s been now six years.”

WKU Health Services Deal Imminent

In addition to passing a budget, WKU regents were also told the school is close to signing an agreement with Graves Gilbert Clinic to run the campus Health Services operation which serves students, faculty, and staff. The school announced in March it would seek to privatize the campus facility, with an estimated savings of $1.1 million dollars.

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