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Coronavirus Hits Kentucky University Budgets, Enrollment


Kentucky’s public universities and colleges suffered a $145 million hit from coronavirus-related expenses and declining revenues, a top state education official said Wednesday.

The financial loss represents 17% of the money state lawmakers put towards funding higher education during the budget for the last fiscal year, which ended on June 30.

Aaron Thompson, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education predicted during a legislative hearing on Wednesday that enrollment and revenue from events and tuition will continue to be down in the coming academic year.

“We look a little better than the other states, but still this is going to have a tremendous impact on our revenue,” Thompson said.

Kentucky is projected to have 8,522 fewer full-time students in its public colleges and universities compared to the last academic year, a decline of 6.1% that would result in a loss of $40.3 million.

Credit Ryland Barton

Thompson said that the enrollment numbers could increase as universities continue to enroll students online.

Thompson said that Kentucky’s higher education institutions collectively had $76 million in coronavirus-related expenses, such as refunds to students for unused room and board, costs associated with moving to online instruction and deep cleaning spaces.

Universities also lost $69 million in revenue as a result of the cancellation of events like NCAA basketball tournaments and summer camps, tuition reductions and losses from investment portfolios, Thompson said.

All of Kentucky’s public colleges and universities are planning to be open and have some form of in-person classes during the upcoming fall semester, though institutions have slightly different reopening strategies.

Thompson said that the drop in revenue will be a strain on all of the state’s higher education institutions, but community colleges that are more reliant on tuition dollars are especially vulnerable.

“I won’t argue that some are ready to not exist anymore, but we have several community colleges that are at risk,” Thompson said.

Credit Ryland Barton

“We’re going to do all we can do to keep alive, but we do have several smaller institutions that are heavily dependent on tuition, so it depends on what enrollment does, to be honest with you.”

Bob Jackson, president of Murray State University, expressed cautious optimism about the coming semester.

“I feel good about where we are, as good as you can in this environment,” Jackson said. “Students want to come back and have a traditional experience on a college campus.”

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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