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CU hosts state legislators' meeting

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By James Roberts

Campbellsville University and its hometown were in the spotlight Monday as CU played host to a Kentucky General Assembly Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting.

To continue the legislature's work between sessions, interim joint committees are formed from the standing committees of both houses. Interim committees draft and approve bills for prefiling at the next regular session.

The Interim Joint Committee on Education oversees matters pertaining to elementary, secondary and postsecondary education, the Kentucky Board of Education, the Department of Education, the powers and duties of local boards of education, operation of school districts and more.

Ordinarily meeting in Frankfort, the meeting, which was the committee's fourth of the year, took place at Campbellsville University after Dr. Gary Cox, president of the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities, requested the meeting occur on the campus of a private university.

CU proved an ideal setting, said committee chair Ken Winters, R-Murray, as several on the committee have a connection to the campus. Winters is a former CU president. Rep. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, was born in Rosary Hospital, a site now part of the CU campus. Sen. Vernie McGaha, R-Russell Springs, is an alum, and Rep. Russ Mobley, R-Campbellsville, is a former CU professor.

Winters and the rest of the committee honored Mobley, who is retiring from public service this year. CU President Dr. Michael Carter presented Mobley with a distinguished service award.

Shajuana Ditto, president of CU's student government association, praised the committee and legislators in general for their efforts concerning financial aid. With the economy in a slump, many Kentuckians would likely not be able to afford college without financial aid, she said.

"Financial aid is an investment to students and the state," she said.

Amplifying Ditto's comments, Ed Cunningham, executive director/CEO of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, gave the committee an update on student loan financing.

Cunningham said KHEAA provides about 70 percent of higher education loans in Kentucky, equaling half a billion dollars. And thanks to an agreement that allowed KHEAA to sell a $50 million bond to the state, the KHEAA is in a better position to grant loans.

"Any Kentucky student who presents a certified loan from any school will get that loan funded," Cunningham said. "We couldn't say that six weeks ago."

Cox also discussed financial aid during his presentation on the impact of the state's independent colleges.

Twenty campuses comprise the AIKCU, Cox said. There are 29,000 students enrolled in these colleges and about 70 percent of the students are Kentuckians. Tuition at an AIKCU college is about a third lower than the national private college tuition, Cox said. Less than 4 percent of the state's appropriation of financial aid goes to Kentucky's independent colleges.

Carter shared Campbellsville University's story with the committee. Beginning life 102 years ago as Russell Creek Academy, Carter said, CU now offers 15 master's programs, 43 bachelor's degree programs and 15 associate degree programs.

Enrollment has steadily grown and will be at 2,600 students this year. That number includes the largest international population CU has ever had - 240 - and the largest freshman class to date. This year, CU students will receive $10.2 million in financial aid.

The university also gives back to its community, Carter said, via a number of programs and ventures.

The Technology and Training Center has helped 8,500 people find jobs since its inception. CU's staff at Clay Hill Memorial Forest is working on a project in which a building is being powered entirely by alternative energy, while grass used to produce biofuel is being grown on the property.

CU leaders are working on a "Vision for the Second Century," which lays out a plan for the next 20 to 25 years, Carter said.

A new School of Education and a School of Business will open in the next year, Carter said.

Also at the meeting.

- Kevin C. Brown of the Kentucky Department of Education gave a brief report on changes to the Support Educational Excellence in Kentucky funding formula.

SEEK funding, which provides the majority of public school funding, is based on a formula that treats school districts equally, taking into account local revenues, student demographics and other variables.

Brown said students with limited English proficiency have been added to the formula. The only other changes, he said, simply eliminated repetitive language in the formula.

- Dr. Richard Crofts, interim president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, gave the committee an update on the search for a new CPE president. A committee will begin reviewing resumes next week and will select the new president by December.

Former president Brad Cowgill resigned in May after a ruling from Attorney General Jack Conway stated that Cowgill's appointment was illegal because no national search was conducted.

- The committee accepted a resolution honoring Frank Rasche. Rasche, a Democrat, had served as chair of the House Education Committee until resigning from his seat to take a job with the Kentucky Department of Education. Rasche served the Third District, which included part of McCracken County.

- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.