Mountain Region Must Raise Educational Standards for State to Move Forward
By Brad Parke
The Appalachian region of Kentucky has produced a multitude of cultural and economic icons vital to defining who we are as a State. Unfortunately, many of the socio-economic conditions prevalent throughout the mountain region have hindered Kentucky’s overall development.
Much of this is due, in part, to the absence of an affordable, state-supported university, in and amongst the largest concentration of poverty of our state.
Designating the University of Pikeville as a state-supported, more affordable institution of higher education, deep in the heart of the coalfields, would fill a need which the region has long desired.
While Morehead State, Eastern and the University of Kentucky are of great service to the region, these institutions are located on the peripheral of the region. Independently, they are unable to solve the lack of educational attainment in the coalfields, where the largest concentration of impoverished counties is situated.
Despite Morehead, EKU and UK’s best efforts, the percentage of bachelor’s degrees of citizens in the proposed service area of UPIKE is 9%, compared to that of 17.1% for the rest of Kentucky.
A new approach must be taken.
Universities encourage the cultivation of life-long social relationships that develop on a college campus among students and faculty; resulting in cultural, social and economic spin-offs, which improve the quality of life, often primarily in areas of close proximity to such an institution. The economic conditions of Richmond, Morehead and Lexington are evident of their capitalization of the human capital provided by its universities.
Unfortunately, many young folks from the coalfields venture off to these institutions and never return.
Funding a university in the mountains, such as Pikeville, provides a mechanism for the region to provide an overall college experience to Appalachian Kentuckians close to home; with the hope they will stay and prosper in the region upon graduation. Additionally, the potential increase in the number of graduates living in the coalfields gives better incentive for employers to locate here, resulting in jobs for these students upon graduation.
Moreover, proponents of a state-supported UPIKE have a funding mechanism in place which capitalizes on a tax of natural resources which has defined the region over the past century, coal.
The original idea behind the coal-severance tax was to aid communities in building long-term prosperity after the extraction of a limited natural resource. Although the coal-severance tax has been of great benefit to the region since its inception, it is often squandered on political pet projects which have produced less than desirable results. Funding an institution of higher education, such as UPIKE, located in and amongst Kentucky’s highest concentrations of poverty, is an ideal way to utilize the money within the original legislative intent of the coal-severance law.
Coal has fueled development of Kentucky, especially parts outside the mountain region. Unfortunately, East Kentucky, which produces the majority of our coal, has not derived the potential benefits. Using this existing tax, from the extraction of our own natural resource, enables Kentucky to fund an institution, in the heart of the coalfields, which will improve the standard of living for all Kentuckians. It is important the General Assembly take this into consideration.
As the old saying goes, “a rising tide raises all ships.” A state-supported, more affordable University of Pikeville will better enable this institution to provide young, mountain folks a college experience close to home and raise the standard of living in the mountains, while raising the overall educational attainment of Kentuckians as a whole.
Brad Parke, 26, of Knott County, Ky., is a graduate of EKU and a student of the Appalachian School of Law.
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