Kentucky Among Worst States in Nation for College Affordability, Harming Students Who Already Face the Greatest Barriers

By Anna Baumann
October 24, 2019

Kentucky ranks 8th worst among states for college affordability – measured as the average net price of higher education at a public four-year institution as a share of median household income – according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

After a decade of cuts to public colleges and universities, tuition continues to rise and Kentucky students are struggling to find ways to pay. Students who already face the greatest economic and racial barriers to higher education are particularly at risk, with cuts and rising tuition jeopardizing Kentuckians’ futures and communities.

The report shows Kentucky is one of 19 states that cut funding for higher education by more than 20% per student between 2008 and 2018, despite improvements in the state economy. Lawmakers spent 25.6%, or $2,792, less per Kentucky student in 2018 compared to 2008 – exceeding the national average decline of 13% or $1,220 per student.

These cuts have helped drive up the cost of public colleges and universities, imposing the greatest cost burden on families of color and those with low incomes. Average published tuition at public four-year universities in Kentucky grew by 39.9% between 2008 and 2018 after adjusting for inflation, the report estimates. Meanwhile, median household income for Kentuckians has remained stagnant for nearly two decades.

“Cuts to higher education don’t save money, they just shift costs over to students. Tuition at a four-year college now costs the average Kentucky student $2,943 more than it did before the recession,” Kentucky Center for Economic Policy Senior Policy Analyst Dr. Ashley Spalding, noted. “Many Kentuckians can’t afford these rising costs. A student could buy a used car to get to class and work for that amount.”

Rising costs make up a growing share of Kentuckians’ income. In 2017, the average net price for a public four-year school in Kentucky accounted for 30% of median household income. Kentucky was one of 17 states where black households would need to spend at least 40% of their incomes to get a degree. The net price in 2017 also represented 34% of Hispanic/Latino median household incomes compared to 29% for white households.

Higher tuition prices can dissuade students from enrolling in college, even if the net price (including aid) doesn’t rise. Tuition increases also reduce campus diversity, especially among students of color and those from households with low incomes. 

Kentucky can increase the skills and diversity of its workforce, and dramatically improve the future of its children and communities, by restoring higher education funding and increasing need-based financial aid. Cleaning up the tax code to fund these investments would help students in Kentucky gain skills they need to succeed and help their communities thrive.   

Read the full report here: State Higher Education Funding Cuts Have Pushed Costs to Students, Worsened Inequality.