Ky. governor: Cut college programs that don’t pay off

Photo: Office of Gov. Matt Bevin

Gov. Matt Bevin bluntly suggested this week that some academic programs on Kentucky’s college campuses have outlived their necessity in times of tight state budgets.

With a pointed jab at the job prospects of interpretive dancers, the Republican governor challenged public university boards and presidents to consider eliminating some courses that don’t produce graduates filling high-wage, high-demand jobs.

His message comes as the state tries to fix its failing public pension systems, and economists estimate Kentucky faces a $200 million shortfall when the fiscal year ends in mid-2018.

“Find entire parts of your campus … that don’t need to be there,” Bevin said in a speech to a higher education conference. “Either physically as programs, degrees that you’re offering, buildings that … shouldn’t be there because you’re maintaining something that’s not an asset of any value, that’s not helping to produce that 21st century educated workforce.”

Bevin acknowledged such comments would be seen as “sacrilege” by some.

More than a degree is needed

It’s not the first time Bevin has urged the state’s colleges and universities to refine course offerings to create more graduates moving on to jobs “that matter” and are in demand.

“If you’re studying interpretive dance, God bless you, but there’s not a lot of jobs right now in America looking for people with that as a skill set,” he said Tuesday.

In comments that echoed an earlier snipe at French literature students, Bevin said educators from middle school on up need to do a better job of steering students toward high-demand jobs. They need to stop perpetuating “this idea that simply going to college is enough,” Bevin said. A college degree isn’t sufficient if students “aren’t studying the right things,” he said.

“There’s a whole lot of kids sitting in their parents’ basements and competing with people for jobs that are minimum wage or a bit better who have four-year degrees, some of them graduate-level degrees,” he said. “Some from the very universities that you all represent.”

Focused on engineering and manufacturing

Bevin has made workforce development a priority of his tenure as governor. He said Tuesday he wants Kentucky to become the nation’s engineering and manufacturing epicenter, and urged the state’s engineering programs to embrace the challenge.

“I challenge you to say to yourselves, ‘If we’re graduating 250 people out of our engineering school … why is it 250 and not 1,000? And what are we going to do between now and 2030 and a whole lot sooner to make sure it’s 1,000?’” Bevin said.

The University of Louisville’s interim president, Greg Postel, said the school’s engineering program has been growing, and continuing on that trajectory would be a “natural fit.”

“Universities have to be aware of where the jobs are, and that has to advise us as to which programs we choose to grow and put resources in,” he said in an interview after Bevin’s speech.

Asked about Bevin’s suggestion that universities look for academic programs to eliminate, Postel said: “That requires an awful lot of thought before one would do something that dramatic.”

Bevin and the state legislature approved cuts of 4.5 percent, or about $40 million, from the state’s public colleges and universities in 2016. The institutions have responded by raising tuition.

Since 2008, state officials have cut state funding for colleges and universities by more than $200 million. Public colleges and universities get most of their money from other sources, including tuition, fees and grants.

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