Governor’s Conference on Postsecondary Education Trusteeship
Remarks by Governor Patton
September 27, 1998
Lexington, Ky.

With support from the General Assembly and the governing boards and the administrations of the colleges and universities, we have made an excellent start toward reforming Kentucky's postsecondary education. But what we have done is not enough. Now our colleges and universities, both independent and state-supported, have to take the lead in changing behavior throughout Kentucky: behavior within government, behavior of a population that generally undervalues advanced education, and, perhaps most important, their own behavior.

Having embarked upon a crusade to improve advanced education throughout Kentucky, and having continued our efforts to strengthen the public schools, it now is time to take on yet another challenge: the challenge of early childhood. But this does not mean that we forget our reform efforts in postsecondary education. Quite the opposite. The well-being and the healthy growth and development of Kentucky's children is strongly tied to change and improvement within our system of colleges and universities.

My emphasis in the years ahead upon early childhood merely extends the continuum of human development from cradle through adulthood.

Let's take these themes one at a time.

We've gotten most of the incentives proposed in House Bill I off the ground. The regional postsecondary education centers are being developed. I'm encouraged by the progress made by the Kentucky Community and Technical College System in its discussions with Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky Universities. Agreement has been reached on three out of five of the centers and I look forward to agreements on the other two in fairly short order.

We have established programs of distinction at three of the six comprehensive universities and the other three are hard at work on their proposals. Again, good, careful progress is being made.

Our merit scholarship program, now named the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarships because of a copyright issue with the National Merit Scholarship Program, has been designed and several hundred thousand letters have been mailed to parents announcing the availability of funds for students who take the right courses and do well in them.

The research endowment challenge program is off the ground. The University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville now can add a total of $200 million to their combined endowments by matching a state investment dollar-for-dollar. The comprehensive universities can add a total of $20 million to their combined endowments in the same way. We look to this program for evidence of greatly strengthened research capacity and scholarly achievement within Kentucky higher education and particularly within our two major research universities.

I’m pleased that the Kentucky Community and Technical College System is now fully operational and that action has been taken to ensure continued accreditation of both the community and the technical colleges.

Finally, the Commonwealth Virtual University and Virtual Library are progressing well and will begin at least partial operation as early as the fall of 1999, the beginning of the next academic year.

These are impressive achievements and I congratulate you on all of them. But at the same time, so much remains to be done that we cannot rest and become self-satisfied. As Gordon Davies, our new president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, wrote recently in a report on the status of Kentucky postsecondary education: "We have only scratched the surface. As a state, Kentucky lags far behind others in postsecondary education achievement."

Consider the sobering evidence:

Kentucky ranks 48th in the country in the percentage of adults with a bachelor's degree or higher.

Less than half of our high school graduates enter college the fall semester following their graduation from high school, which is far below the national average of 67 percent.

Of those who enter college directly, almost'40 percent require remediation at the university level and almost two-thirds require remediation in the community colleges.

While more African-American students from Kentucky now enroll in our public universities and colleges, they do not attend or receive degrees at rates equal to those of other students.

While prospective teachers pass the national teacher examination at high rates, we need to be aware that they do so in Large part because Kentucky has a very low standard for passing the test. In fact the Southern Regional Education Board reports that our standard for passing is the second lowest in the nation.

Not only do fewer students enter college than the national average, but fewer graduate. National statistics indicate that 44 percent of students attending public four-year institutions graduate within five years. For us, only 36 percent of those who began in 1991 had graduated six years later.

Finally, while most alumni and graduates report satisfaction with the institution they attended and the education they received, a number of employers appear to be dissatisfied with the skills, knowledge, or work habits of the college graduates they hire.

As a whole, Kentuckians may be satisfied with too little from their institutions of advanced education and they get it.

Clearly, we have more to do. Indeed, to my mind, now the real work begins.

Here is what I ask of you as trustees, as regents, and as members of the council on Postsecondary Education.

First, be advocates for advanced education in Kentucky, not just advocates for a particular institution or cause. As lay boards, you hold a public trust to serve the people of Kentucky and their social institutions, businesses, and communities.

Second, behave as if your institution is part of a team, because it is. We cannot get there from here by squabbling with one another or by stealing food off one another's plates. We have to work together or Kentucky will remain a low-tech state in a high-tech world.

Third, emphasize results and do not be satisfied with excuses or poor performance. We are trying to emerge from mediocrity or worse and low expectations will cripple our progress.

Fourth, work with your presidents to set clear goals and results to be achieved. Then let your president and the staff she or he has assembled do the work. Your job is not to be involved in daily operations, design of administrative systems, or detailed implementation of policies. It is to set goals and to judge results. The way to avoid being a "rubber stamp" board is not to do all of the work yourself. Neither do you have to reduce your staff to the level of functionaries. It does mean that you keep your eye on the long-range goals: access to more and better advanced education for many more people of Kentucky.

Fifth, behave as a board, not as individuals. As a corporate entity, the board - be it the Council on Postsecondary Education or the board of regents of KCTCS or the board of trustees of a comprehensive university- has clearly defined responsibilities. As individuals you are just like everyone else: citizens entitled to your own opinions. We need to make public policy for our system of advanced education, both state-supported and independent institutions alike - in rationale and public ways, not by deals and end-runs.

Again, all of your have done extraordinary work over the past year. The results do not show it yet but I am convinced that we are on the move. I ask that you stay the course during the difficult and often frustrating process of institutionalizing change and improvement as key characteristics of every college and university in Kentucky.

Let me turn now to consider the role of postsecondary education in bettering the lives of children throughout Kentucky. It probably will not surprise you to learn that we rank poorly among the states in the well-being of our children. In fact, we slipped from 38th in 1997 to 40th this year.

Twenty-six percent of Kentucky's children live in poverty, which ranks us 45th among the states.

Thirteen percent of Kentucky's youth between ages 16 and 19 are high school dropouts, which also ranks us 45th.

Too many of our children are under-educated and poor, and the two conditions are of course closely related. But they are not conditions that affect just one generation; their effects continue on and on. Research shows that the educational level of mothers affects both. infant mortality and maternal mortality. Put most simply, better educated women are better able to care for themselves and their newborns. In addition, they are better able to stimulate the minds of their infant children at a time when simply enormous amounts of learning occurs, learning that cannot be acquired once a child has moved beyond her earliest years.

I'm going to emphasize the early stages of childhood during the next several years. I shall do so because proper development in the earliest stages of life is essential to future success, productivity, and happiness. I shall do so because many of the problems we deal with among teenagers have their roots in conditions that should have been addressed in the earliest stages of childhood.

I believe that colleges and universities have critical roles to play in improving the conditions of our children. As I have said, better educated parents rear healthier and better-educated children. If we can increase the number of Kentuckians who participate in education beyond high school, we shall improve the lot of children in the generations to come.

But our colleges and universities do more than that. They also prepare women and men to work with children in a variety of settings, as day care supervisors, teachers, health care providers, social workers, coaches, the list goes on and on. Once again our universities and colleges are the key institutions in any effort we make to bring broad social improvement.

The most recent ranking of the states in terms of child well-being indicates clearly why Kentucky no longer can be satisfied to compare itself to other states in the south. Among the states that comprise the Southern Regional Education Board, most are at the bottom of the list in child well-being: North Carolina 39th , Kentucky 40th, Tennessee 45th, Alabama 47th, South Carolina 48th, Mississippi 49th, Louisiana 50th.

While we can think our stars that there are ten states below us, it is nothing to be proud of. We have a long way to go before we can say that Kentucky is part of a new and dynamic south that-leads the nation.

And if we succeed in creating colleges and universities that are the envy of other states but we do not succeed in improving the lot of Kentucky's children, we shall have little reason to rejoice. In the long run, Kentucky, or any other state, or even this nation,, can only sustain itself if its children are healthy and well-educated from the earliest stages of infancy. They are our most valuable resource.

So once again, I urge you to recognize that the universities and colleges for which you are responsible are indeed part of a team, not just a team of postsecondary institutions, but a team comprised of all those institutions that must work together to ensure the mental, emotional and physical well-being of Kentuckians from cradle to grave.

We've made great progress in the past year but we've only just begun.

Your job is enormously important not only to the people whom you serve directly but to the great numbers of those whose lives are affected indirectly by the education’s you provide. Together, we have to make it clear that the success of advanced education is important to every Kentuckian, whether or not she or he participates directly in it. This is a big job but I know that we are up to it.

Thank you very much.