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State Budget Cuts Threaten KSU's Existence, President Warns

Kentucky State University

Update: Budget cuts proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin would hit Kentucky State University at a vulnerable period and ultimately imperil the very existence of the historically black institution, President Raymond Burse said Monday afternoon in an interview with WFPL News.

Burse said Bevin's proposed cuts and a new performance-based funding system for higher education would undercut a years-long plan to improve the university. Kentucky State enrollment has dropped in recent years under more stringent enforcement of admission standards and rules for students to pay their bills to the university.

Kentucky State had asked the state for increased funding while it recovered from the enrollment decrease, he said.

Instead, the Frankfort state university and others are facing a 4.5 percent budget cut this fiscal year and a 9 percent budget cut in the next.

After Bevin proposed cuts last month, the Kentucky State administration undertook an analysis of how it could move forward, Burse said.

The analysis found that the university may not be able to move forward at all. At the very least, Kentucky State would be put in a financial crisis that would lead to reduced programs and "head counts," he said.

Burse said the university has shared its analysis with the Bevin administration and will lobby against the funding cuts to the governor and state legislators.

"We're fighting and working to make certain, or to try to make certain, that those cuts don't come into effect and that we're able to stabilize and continue to build on Kentucky State University's 130-year existence," Burse said.

About 34 percent of Kentucky State's budget comes from the state general fund, Burse said. The next largest revenue source is tuition.

Bevin's proposal to base university funding from the state on performance would be particularly difficult for Kentucky State, Burse said. The university is undergoing assessments of its programs, post-tenure reviews and other initiatives aimed at improving its academic standing. He said those initiatives will be a years-long process; meanwhile, the state would begin allocating funding based on performance that the school is trying to improve.

"We had issues we were working on prior to the proposed budget cuts and we'll continue working on those," Burse said. "But when we're already working on things that were detrimental to us, the budget cuts on top of it just exacerbates the situation."

Update: In a statement Monday evening, the Bevin Administration said:

"Governor Bevin continues to discuss the issues surrounding the potential impacts of his budget proposal with all of the University presidents. President Burse has shared his concerns with the governor and KSU's tuition stabilization proposal is being evaluated within that broader context."

Earlier: Kentucky State University's president warned Monday that proposed state budget cuts to higher education may threaten the existence of the historically black institution.

In a newsletter to the university community, KSU President Raymond Burse said the budget cuts Gov. Matt Bevin proposed last month would place KSU in a "precarious position."

If the budget cuts were fully enacted, KSU's options would be to "declare financial exigency and/or prepare a closure plan," he wrote.

"I do not like either one of those options, and I am working hard to make certain we can do our work smarter, logically and effectively to ensure that Kentucky State University is here for another 130 years," he wrote in the letter, which was published online by the Frankfort State Journal.

"This will require a great deal of work by all of us, and we must meet and be ready, willing and able to face and overcome the challenge," he wrote. "No one is declaring defeat. For while it is day, we must work to make KSU a premier institution."

Last month, Bevin proposed 9 percent budget cuts to most state agencies, including state universities, for the next two fiscal years. He also announced plans to cut 4.5 percent from those same agencies during the current fiscal year.

Bevin, a Republican, has said the state must cut its budget under the financial strains of underfunded pension systems and the impending requirement to pick up a portion of the state's expanded Medicaid costs.

The budget proposal has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers.

A Bevin spokeswoman did not immediately respond Monday morning to questions regarding KSU.

State university presidents across the commonwealth have said the proposed cuts would be challenging to absorb. But KSU would have unique difficulties.

In his letter, Burse wrote that the university is attempting to address past "improper processes, procedures and in some instances, yes, negligence."

In recent years, KSU became stricter in enforcing bill payments, a policy instituted because the university had $17 million in outstanding payments from students, wrote Burse, who became KSU's president in 2014. He also wrote that the university has become stricter in enforcing its admission standards.

That's led to a drop in enrollment.

In 2014, KSU enrollment was 1,588. The university's official enrollment was 2,029 the previous year and 2,348 in 2010, according to the Kentucky Council for Postsecondary Education.

Burse could not be immediately reached for further comment.

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.