Should there be a state supported university in Eastern Kentucky?

I received this Op-Ed article from University of Pikeville President Paul Patton.

Former Governor and current University of Pikeville  President Paul Patton is my guest tonight on Issues & Answers: The Mountain Edition. 


We will continue our discussion on whether UPike should become the state’s ninth public university. Last week several County Judge Executives debated that issue.  Former Lt. Governor Daniel Mongiardo has also gone on record saying he likes the idea but says, “the state can’t afford it.”



If you miss tonight’s show you can watch it again Sunday morning, February 26.  Or you can watch it online. Click here to watch


UPike President Paul Patton wrote this Op-Ed article in December.


Should there be a state supported university in Eastern Kentucky?

By Paul Patton



This is a question that has become a subject of discussion among the policy makers in the Commonwealth. To me, the answer is obvious. Yes. The gold standard of education today is the bachelor’s degree. The percentage of adults age 24 to 44 with a bachelor’s degree in the 12 major coal-producing counties in Eastern Kentucky is 9.1%.  In the rest of the Commonwealth it is almost double that, 17.1%. If Kentucky is to realize its maximum potential, the educational level of Eastern Kentucky must be brought up to that of the rest of Kentucky and the educational attainment of Kentucky as a whole must be brought up to that of the nation. An increase in educational attainment of this magnitude can only be accomplished by having an affordable, high quality, comprehensive state supported university in the coalfields dedicated to eradicating this educational deficiency.  



Proximity Promotes Participation! Look at the education of the population in the rural counties which have had state supported universities for the past 80 years or more and then look at Pike County.  Calloway County has Murray State University and 24.0% of the adult population between 24 and 44 have a bachelor’s degree. Warren County, with Western, 24.7%, Madison County, Eastern, 21.8% and Rowan County, Morehead, 21.9%.  But Pike County, with the University of Pikeville, is only 9.9%



These counties have also evolved from agricultural economies to diverse economies. East Tennessee has East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, and it does not have our problems. Western North Carolina has Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, and it does not have our problems. Northern West Virginia has a coal economy and West Virginia University and it does not have our problems. And if we had an 80-year-old state supported university like the rest of the state, we wouldn’t have our problems. 



I am gratified that major state leaders see the need and are willing to consider the University of Pikeville as the vehicle to achieve this end. Any proposal will be subject to the approval of the Board of Trustees of the University of Pikeville; however, I believe the board will agree to the transfer of all the assets and liabilities of the university (excepting the endowment) to a state university on an equal status with the six existing comprehensive universities and with comparable funding, considering difference in size. The replacement value of those assets will be nearly $200 million.


State support will cut our tuition ($16,250) by more than half and substantially increase the number of students achieving a bachelor’s degree. All of Kentucky will benefit from the increase in intellectual capital. Our medical school has proven that if we educate students from the mountains, in the mountains, they will stay in the mountains to serve our people. The quality of healthcare in Eastern Kentucky is already significantly improved because of the presence of hundreds of doctors educated at the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine, which is a part of the University of Pikeville and would be a part of this public university.


This same debate was conducted in Kentucky 40 years ago when Louisville and Northern Kentucky were not served by a state supported university. Can anyone today imagine Louisville or Northern Kentucky not having a major state supported university? Can anyone deny that such an institution would help Eastern Kentucky and thereby the entire state?  As State Representative Greg Stumbo has said, “This is a no-brainer!” I ask all concerned to rise above their individual perspective and loyalty to particular institutions and look at what is best for the entire Commonwealth.


This action would be the most important improvement in Eastern Kentucky since the construction of the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway. Governor Combs saw the need and acted decisively, beginning planning even before he was sworn into office.  That is the kind of action we are hoping for. The need is obvious. The vehicle is available. The General Assembly will have the final word. All of Kentucky will benefit.


I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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