Gov. Steve Beshear and community college officials on Monday discussed funding for a proposal to finance critical building projects throughout the state's community college system.
The governor and Michael McCall, Kentucky Community and Technical College System president, spoke in Frankfort about the plan, the KCTCS BuildSmart Investment for Kentucky Competitiveness. Beshear introduced the idea in his Jan. 21 state budget proposal. The investment would be the largest since the system's foundation and the first time community colleges could use agency bonds to fund construction. The last three biennial budgets have passed with no new capital improvements for the system, he said.
"Our community and technical college system is one of the most important tools in building a stronger, more agile and adaptable workforce," Beshear said.
He said the proposal includes the use of $145.5 million in agency bonds, 75 percent of the cost, to invest in campus improvements, one critical project at each of the 16 colleges. The other 25 percent would be raised from the local communities, through public or private sources, for a total of $194 million in construction. The bonds would not affect taxpayer revenue in the General Fund.
McCall said the 25 percent could be raised from a capital fee assessed to students throughout the system. The increase was set at $8 per credit hour beginning next fall, but system officials worked with the Council on Postsecondary Education on a system that would increase fees by $4 per credit hour this fall, then $4 the following fall. He said the added cost represents a compromise between the impact on students and completing necessary building projects.
"This investment is a perfect example of a public/private partnership and builds upon the strong connections our colleges have forged with their local business communities," he said.
West Kentucky Community & Technical College would receive $7.5 million toward renovation of the nearly 30,000 square-foot former Kitchens Inc. facility on Harrison Street that would complete the Paducah School of Art and Design Lower Town campus. President Barbara Veazey said the governor's proposal represents an important step in giving community colleges the same opportunities as four-year universities.
"It's a bold step for the community college system to have bonding authority," she said. "We are keeping fees and tuition as low as possible and balancing that with important building projects."
She said that the increase would be the first student fees in community college history and the phased-in approach, along with the large number of students on financial aid and scholarship funds, would allow the college to reduce the impact on students. Veazey added, unlike WKCTC, which has begun its fundraising campaign, many colleges won't start building projects on July 1.
Paducah School of Art and Design Dean Paul Aho said the proposed budget represents a pivotal step in development of the Lower Town campus, which will strengthen the connection between the college and the community.
"It's a historic moment for the community college system, it's big for the schools and big for Paducah," he said. "The funding positions the system for future growth and transformation."
Aho said the fees are not too onerous and hoped that students understand that the positives of a cohesive art campus outweigh the two-year cost.
"There is strength in numbers, and we need a buy-in by all parties to see the value of it for students locally and around the state," he said.
Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.