FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A push to increase the number of college graduates in Kentucky to the national average may have been jeopardized by skyrocketing tuition, auditors concluded in a report released Wednesday.
State Auditor Crit Luallen said the findings suggest that Kentucky may not be able to meet the goal set by lawmakers when they passed higher education reforms 10 years ago. They wanted Kentucky to reach the national average by 2020.
The review by auditors from Luallen's office found that the total number of Kentuckians enrolled as full-time college students has grown by only 10 percent since 1998, and has actually fallen by 900 since 2003. To turn that trend around, auditors recommend reducing tuition for instate students and increasing financial aid to needy Kentucky students.
Auditors said tuition has increased from an average $2,424 a year at the state's public universities to $5,522, roughly 128 percent over the past eight years.
"The data calls for urgent and dramatic action," Luallen said in a written statement. "It simply must be a top priority of policy makers in Kentucky to make postsecondary education affordable for Kentuckians. Hopefully, this report can make this critical problem, already at a crisis point, a top issue this year."
The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education estimates that, at the current pace, the state will fall short of its 2020 goal by 211,000.
In 2000, Kentucky had 402,000 college graduates with bachelor's degrees. At its current pace, the council estimates that the state will have 580,000 residents with bachelor's degrees in 2020, far short of the goal of 791,000.
Tom Layzell, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, applauded the audit report, saying it brings needed attention to an important issue in an election year.
However, Layzell said the news isn't all bad because Kentucky has had a 20 percent increase in the number of four-year degrees since 1998. He called that "real progress" for the state while conceding that "we're going to have to pick up the pace."
Layzell said rising tuition alone isn't responsible for the decline in college enrollment. He said insufficient financial aid also could be a factor.
Luallen said the number of part-time students has also declined in the four-year institutions and the growth of part-time students has slowed in the state's community colleges.
The auditor's report found that some of the state's eight universities have been more successful in attracting nonresidents than residents. The number of nonresident students has grown by 39 percent since 1998.
Luallen said the audit report shows an "urgent need for a comprehensive review" of state funding for higher education, tuition policies and financial aid availability. She called on state officials to "provide adequate funding to ensure that tuition is set at a level that makes postsecondary education accessible to all residents."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved