A common theme I have heard since being elected state representative in 1994 is that state funding for Northern Kentucky University is lower than its sister institutions across the commonwealth, which has caused tuition to rise faster here than necessary.
Two new initiatives will bring NKU some well-deserved balance.
The first grew out of a recommendation by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), the coordinating body for our network of public colleges and universities. The CPE showed that NKU and Western Kentucky University were indeed funded at levels lower than other universities, taking into account student population, the overall size of the schools and other variables.
With this information and the approval of the other universities, CPE recommended that NKU have an additional $16 million added to its base appropriation from the state.
Although that figure was reduced in the enacted state budget due to other financial constraints, NKU did receive $5.3 million more. As chair of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, I believe this is a major step forward toward correcting the school’s long-standing funding imbalance, because it gives us a blueprint to close the gap in future budgets.
The second positive action was the decision to embrace performance-based funding to determine what our colleges and universities should receive from the state.
This concept will help meet state policy goals in graduation rates, student progression and the number and types of degrees offered. These goals also recognize the differing campus missions.
Both Geoff Mearns, NKU’s current president, and his predecessor, Dr. James Votruba, have advocated for performance-based funding to maximize each dollar of state higher education spending. Both leaders spoke against the unfairness of the share approach that has guided the state since the postsecondary reforms of 1997, and messages and emails I received from Northern Kentuckians during this year’s legislative session echoed their concerns.
More than 30 states have incorporated performance-based funding to determine their postsecondary school budgets, and while Kentucky is just starting, the idea is a familiar one due to CPE’s advocacy in recent years.
Most states have applied this to new appropriations rather than existing funding, but Kentucky was unable to identify new money for higher education. In fact, it was cut as part of an overall reduction in state spending.
Even so, the current two-year budget does mandate that 5 percent of the base funding of most colleges and universities be placed in a performance pool that is funded by beginning next fiscal year. That will be distributed based in part on meeting student outcomes and other worthy goals. A working group the General Assembly created will report by the end of the year exactly how to distribute those funds and what future steps the state should take.
I am excited about the potential of increasing the performance-based funding because I believe it will help our postsecondary schools better meet state objectives and make it more likely that overall funding is allocated in a fair and effective manner. For NKU, and our region as whole, that is great news.