Kentucky’s eight public universities and its community college system are invaluable resources to the students they serve, the communities they work in and the statewide economy. Our families, friends and neighbors make up the workforce within these institutions, and their instruction, community engagement, research and support services contribute daily to the wellbeing of the commonwealth.
And yet, two decades of per-student funding cuts and the institutional challenges that come with them have led to an inflection point in public higher education. The General Assembly’s longstanding failure to appropriate adequate state funding puts pressure on school leaders to cut or shift costs to students and employees alike through higher tuition, low or flat wages, eroded benefits, increased workloads and understaffing.
These conditions are not conducive to sustaining high-quality educational programs, a diverse student body, enrollment growth, research activity and academic success, particularly for first generation college students, students from low-income family backgrounds and students of color.
This report provides a window into how these funding pressures and unwise public policy decisions have affected public postsecondary education in Kentucky. The words of employees at public universities and community colleges across the state, collected through a survey of 1,367 public postsecondary staff and faculty, provide insight into how these mounting pressures are affecting their compensation, workload, morale, job longevity and ability to effectively conduct research, teach and support students, and provide service across Kentucky communities. One staff member at the University of Kentucky put it this way:
“I should have never stayed as long as I have for the pay. It is truly because I love my job. At some point though, it is hard not to feel taken advantage of and bitter for the hours of work.”
As state lawmakers return to Frankfort to craft a new two-year budget in the 2024 General Assembly, it is critical that they listen to the front-line workers who power this vital sector of our society and economy, and reverse course on the crushing trend of cuts Kentucky higher education has endured for too long.When-Higher-Ed-Is-A-Lower-Priority-Report-12.13-FINAL