KY colleges to double enrollment

The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education unveiled a plan last month to increase Kentucky’s number of college graduates.

Called Double the Numbers, the plan was the result of the 1997 Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act, which states that to raise Kentucky’s standard of living and quality of life to the national average by 2020, educational attainment must be increased.

The council found that while obtaining an associate or advanced degree is still important, doubling the number of Kentuckians holding a bachelor’s degree is the best way to increase the state’s economic prosperity.

“An increase in bachelor degrees equals an increase in overall pay, even despite a slowing economy,” said A.J. Fitzpatrick, a Northern Kentucky University student majoring in middle grades education. “Any degree opens up many job opportunities and also doesn’t hurt the possibility of higher achievement in their career.”

A recent Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation report said that if efforts aren’t intensified, the state will not reach the national average in per capita income for another 154 years.

The plan lists four reasons to double the number of Kentuckians with a bachelor’s degree: college graduates earn more, college graduates tend to be more engaged citizens, states with more college graduates generally enjoy a higher quality of life, and states with more college graduates have stronger, more diverse communities. According to the Double the Numbers plan, top states in educational attainment also rank highest on the New Economy Index, while Kentucky ranks 45th.

An analysis by the KCPE predicts that by the year 2020, 32 percent of all working-age Americans will have at least a bachelor’s degree compared with Kentucky’s average of 24 percent.

The KCPE proposes to enact the plan with input from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems and the state’s nine public universities. It listed essential strategies that can be found in the fact box.

NKU President James Votruba said the plan is a great goal with development that has been shaped by consulting with universities throughout Kentucky.

“If you look at the states with a higher number of college graduates, they seem to have fewer health problems, fewer problems with crime and the overall qualities of life are better, so I think the goal of doubling the numbers is a terrific goal,” Votruba said.

According to the plan, NKU would have to increase the number of bachelor’s degrees earned from 1,624 in 2007 to 3,149 by the year 2020.

Votruba said that it’s possible to do that, but requires growth funding. Currently, NKU is 30 percent under-built, which means about 400,000 square feet is needed.

According to Votruba, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education has made one of its top NKU priorities the Founders Hall renovation, which will cost $27 million, and the construction of a new health innovations building priced at approximately $43 million.

In addition, NKU would have a larger student affairs department, more activities, advisors and full-time faculty.

Votruba insists, however, that NKU is going to continue to keep classes small.

“We’re not going to grow by doubling or tripling the size of classes; we just will not do that,” he said.

Votruba said a challenge of the plan is going to be how it’s funded and added that if the state provides the capital, he believes it will reap the rewards.

“There are expenses and there are investments,” Votruba said. “That’s a great investment, not an expense.”