Higher Education


When it comes to depth of curriculum, breadth of research and impact on the state economy, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville lead the way among public colleges in the Bluegrass State.

When it comes to investing donors’ dollars, though, leadership might be best found outside of the state’s money centers, in college towns like Bowling Green, Morehead and Murray.

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting examined five years’ worth of investment returns of 11 collegiate endowments across the state. The chief takeaway? Bigger is definitely not better. The public colleges in Kentucky that have amassed the largest war chests of public donations are nowhere near the winner’s circle when it comes to making money.

UK — whose $1 billion endowment is the state’s largest — ranked a mediocre sixth in generating returns on donors’ money over five years. The U of L Foundation’s ranked ninth.

The endowment that generated the best three and five-year returns as of Dec. 31 was the College Heights Foundation at Western Kentucky University. The smaller of two endowments at Western, College Heights posted an average annual return of 7.4 percent on its investments from 2011 through 2015. It was also the second-best performer in 2015 alone, when a flat stock market, low bond yields and plunging commodity prices sent most endowment balances into reverse.

Alix Mattingly, WFPL News

News of the $815,741 paid last year to retired Kentucky Community & Technical College System President Michael McCall has drawn expressions of outrage from lawmakers, college employees, citizens and the state’s secretary of education.

Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration said Thursday it will conduct a comprehensive review of KCTCS, which announced the elimination of 506 jobs earlier this week. The review will be done by the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet under Secretary Hal Heiner and the state’s Council on Postsecondary Education.

As reported Thursday by WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, McCall retired Jan. 15, 2015, but was given a consulting contract that paid him $300,965 till year-end. KCTCS also gave him $352,066 for 261 unused vacation days and a $124,249 deferred incentive payout.

As the Kentucky Community & Technical College System eliminates 506 jobs, it disclosed that it paid $815,741 last year to former president Michael McCall.

Midway University

The only women’s college in Kentucky will undergo a major transition this fall.

For the first time in nearly 170 years, Midway University will begin accepting men as full-time undergraduates with the fall semester.

Male students can apply to live in residence halls starting in Spring of 2017. Previously, men were accepted only in graduate or online programs.

The school’s board of trustees voted Monday to make the change.

University President John Marsden said the decision was made in order for the liberal arts university to remain viable.

Midway traces its roots back to 1847, when it was founded as the Kentucky Female Orphan School.

Morehead State University

Morehead State University has announced budget recommendations, including the elimination of 64 positions.

Multiple news outlets report school officials made the announcement Thursday.

President Wayne D. Andrews said in a statement that the cuts are in response to a budget deficit of more than $9.7 million because of declining enrollment, population and a decrease in state funding.

Of the positions proposed to be eliminated, 30 are filled and 34 are vacant. Other recommendations include a total of $4.9 million in revenue enhancements and $718,594 reductions in the university's operating budget.

A final budget recommendation is expected to be presented to the Board of Regents in June.

Kevin Willis, WKU Public Radio

Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell says budget cuts at the school won’t negatively impact academic programs.

WKU Wednesday released a plan to eliminate $6 million from the fiscal year 2017 budget.

Ransdell said no degree programs or faculty positions that are currently filled are being eliminated. The cuts are the result of a 4.5 percent reduction in state funding, an enrollment decline, and a 48 percent increase in the employer contribution to the Kentucky Employees Retirement System.

Nearly $750,000 in savings will be gained by moving the school's Buildings Services and Grounds employees to a private contract with Sodexo.

However, Ransdell said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon that none of those employees will lose their jobs.

“Each employee, the 202 in our BSA work group and our grounds crew, will receive a dollar-an-hour raise,” Ransdell told reporters. “Their compensation will go from $9.26 an hour to $10.26 an hour, so they’re getting nearly a ten-percent pay increase.”


The cost of a college education in Kentucky continues to inch upward.  Meeting in Bowling Green Tuesday, the Council on Postsecondary Education approved tuition ceilings for the state’s public colleges and universities.

The state’s two research schools, the Universities of Kentucky and Louisville, will be allowed to raise their in-state undergraduate rates up to 5 percent each for the 2016-17 academic year. 

For the state’s six comprehensive universities, the increases vary from school to school.  The CPE approved a 4.65 percent hike for Western Kentucky University; 4.95 percent for Northern Kentucky; and 5.4 percent for Morehead State. 

Tuition costs can rise at Eastern Kentucky University by 5.3 percent; 10.4 percent at Murray State; and 5.8 percent at Kentucky State.

The CPE is allowing the Kentucky Community and Technical College System to hike tuition by $9 per credit hour.


Western Kentucky University is one step closer to hiring an executive search firm to look for the school’s next president.

The Board of Regents on Friday approved a motion to award a bid to the Boston-based firm Isaacson, Miller.

Dr. Phillip Bale of Glasgow, the chairman of the WKU presidential search committee, said the committee was impressed with the recent track record of Isaacson, Miller.

“They’ve done many presidential searches within the last few years. They’ve done the presidential searches for Vanderbilt, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Illinois, just to name a few.”

The proposed contract with the firm has to be approved by the state next month.


The faculty and staff at Western Kentucky University are being asked to give input related to the search for the school’s next president.

A forum for faculty is being held Friday afternoon, April 15,  on campus, and staff members are invited to a forum Friday, April 22.

WKU President Gary Ransdell has announced he’ll retire at the end of June 2017.

Doctor Phillip Bale of Glasgow, chair of the presidential search committee, says the early announcement by Ransdell gives the committee ample time to do a thorough job.

“I envision the next several months will be spent mainly developing our position profile—that is, what sort of skill set and what sort of attributes do we want the next president to have,” Dr. Bale said.

Ransdell will have served as WKU president for 20 years when he steps down.

Creative Commons

The number of high school seniors in the state going on to pursue bachelor’s and associate’s degrees has remained steady, according to two new reports from the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics.

The “Kentucky High School Feedback Report on College Going” and the “Kentucky High School Feedback Report on College Success” show that six in 10 graduates of public high schools in the state in 2014 enrolled in college and scored as being better-prepared for college courses. The figure was virtually identical in 2013.

Of those 2014 graduates, more than 50 percent were pursuing a bachelor’s degree and about 36 percent were seeking an associate’s degree.

Both the highest and lowest percentage of high school graduates attending college can be found in Jefferson County.

Dupont Manual High School has the highest percentage at 92 percent, while Valley Traditional High School has the lowest percentage at 33.9 percent.


Kentucky’s higher education institutions would compete for a portion of their state funding under the Senate’s budget proposal, which will be fully unveiled later this week.

The competition would be based on degrees produced, graduation rates, retention rates and closing “achievement gaps” among low-income students and underrepresented minorities.

“Whoever’s excelling deserves to be rewarded,” said Sen. David Givens, a Greensburg Republican and main architect of the policy, which he said would go into effect in 2018.

Schools would be separated into three tiers and compete for about 25 percent of their state funding.

The University of Kentucky and University of Louisville would compete in the first tier. The second tier would include the five regional universities: Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky, Northern Kentucky, Morehead State University and Murray State.


Kentucky’s improving economy is driving steep declines in community college enrollment, but the head of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System says those schools are not losing their relevance.  In an interview with WKU Public Radio, Dr. Jay Box said community colleges remain key in building a stronger workforce which translates into a stronger middle class.

Box:  We are the primary provider of workforce education and training in all states and we realize the jobs that our graduates get are those middle class jobs, the jobs that are so important in our economy.

Autry:  You were recently appointed to a national community college board called Reclaiming America’s Middle Class.  One of its missions is to promote community colleges and the role they play in serving students, whether right out of high school or adult learners who perhaps are coming from jobs into the classroom.  Talk about some of the priorities of this national board.


Governor Matt Bevin wants to influence any performance-based funding model used by Kentucky universities.

The leaders of the state’s public schools and the Council on Postsecondary Education have been working for 18 months on a proposed formula for any new funding they receive.

But not only are universities not in line to receive new funding in the next state budget, they’re facing significant cuts.

Western Kentucky University Vice President of Public Affairs Robbin Taylor says Bevin has indicated he wants any such model to be based largely on how well schools help address workforce development needs.

Taylor says she thinks schools now have to re-evaluate what they’ve been working on.

"I don't want to say this negates all that, but it sort of puts all that on hold. As the Governor has indicated, he didn't think it went far enough, and he'd like to be a part of making those decisions, and has indicated his desire to work with the university presidents and the Council on Postsecondary Education to come up with those measures."


WKU President Gary Ransdell announced at Friday's Board of Regents meeting in Elizabethtown that he is retiring effective June 30, 2017.

He said he wanted to give the school ample time to find a successor. He will have served as WKU President for 20 years by the time he leaves the post.

Ransdell said picking the right time to step aside has been something he and his wife, Julie, have been discussing for a while.

"We want to do this on our terms, and this has been an incredible 19 years so far, and will be an incredible 20 years," Ransdell told WKU Public radio.  "We just felt like our health is good and I've seen so many people in this job retire and not have the best of circumstances with their health."

In an email to faculty and staff,   Ransdell said he believes he has fulfilled the commitment he made in 1997 to transform the university. 

"WKU is a dramatically different institution today than it was 20 years ago – financially, physically, intellectually and attitudinally.  Serving my alma mater has been a dream come true," said Ransdell.


Kentucky state universities have endured regular budget cuts for years, and they’ve offset the losses in part with tuition increases.

A Republican state senator wants to stop the latter.

State Sen. Dan Seum, a Louisville Republican, is proposing a freeze on state universities’ tuition rates. He said state universities have increased their tuition at a rate that outstrips cuts to higher education.

“We cut their budget by $165 million, they increased it on the backs of these kids to the tune of $582 million,” Seum said. “I think the universities have seen these kids as nothing more than a cash cow.”

According to a 2015 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kentucky has cut higher education spending per-student at the highest rate in the U.S.

At the same time, tuition has increased at Kentucky’s public universities at a clip higher than 45 other states’ higher education systems.

Tuition increases must be approved by the state’s Council on Postsecondary Education. Last year, the board approved a 3 percent hike for the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville. Both schools were granted a 5 percent tuition increase the previous year.

Tuition is only allowed to increase by 8 percent every two years.