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Kentucky State University officials brief lawmakers on progress since 2022 bailout

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Kentucky State University officials brief lawmakers on progress since 2022 bailout

Jun 05, 2024 | 1:10 pm ET
By McKenna Horsley
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Kentucky State University officials brief lawmakers on progress since 2022 bailout
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Kentucky State University cut the ribbon in August 2023 on a new South Campus Residence Hall. Rep. James Tipton spoke at the event. (KSU photo)

Kentucky State University officials told lawmakers that the institution has made improvements two years after the General Assembly increased oversight of the university amid budget shortfalls. 

The officials gave updates on the goals outlined by the 2022 legislation to the Interim Joint Committee on Education on Tuesday and the Budget Review Subcommittee on Education on Wednesday. 

Under the law, the Council on Postsecondary Education was required to oversee a management improvement plan for the university and the General Assembly provided $23 million to the university to offset budget shortfalls.

In recent years, KSU has faced numerous controversies, such as misused funds under a previous administration and a warning from its accreditation body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), at the end of 2023.

Now, KSU has completed 53 of the 130 improvement plan objectives, or 41%. Of those remaining, 72 are in progress, three are pending approval and two have been removed. KSU named its new president, Koffi C. Akakpo, in May 2023. 

KSU, which is Kentucky’s only historically Black public university, is located in Frankfort. 

Kentucky State University officials brief lawmakers on progress since 2022 bailout
Tammi Dukes

Tammi Dukes, the KSU Board of Regents chair, told the Interim Education Committee on Tuesday that the university has “the largest general fund in our history,” as well as a nearly 400% increase in asset preservation and $5 million from the legislature for the planning and design of a new health science education building on campus. 

“I would like to extend a heartfelt gratitude to the members of the committee and the entire General Assembly for your historic investment in the future of Kentucky State University for the upcoming biennium,” Dukes said.

Dukes elaborated on the university’s three primary goals while speaking to the subcommittee on Wednesday. Those are balancing its budget, ensuring robust internal controls and growing student enrollment. 

KSU spent most of the current fiscal year rebuilding its admissions office to meet enrollment goals. More than 2,500 applications have been created and 1,296 have been completed. As of this week, 1,206 students have been admitted to KSU, and 41% are from Kentucky. 

In 2023, KSU had a retention rate of 61%. Now, it is about 66% but is on track to be 75% once fall semester registration ends. As for its six-year graduation rate, KSU was at 28% last year and is up to 34% this year. Kentucky’s average six-year graduation rate in 2021-22 was 59.2%, according to a report CPE released in the fall 2023. 

Vickie Dunaway, KSU’s vice president of finance and administration, said the university is projecting a fund balance in its budget this year. 

“We have also tightened up our purse strings in regards to spending, and we hope to meet all our management improvement milestone plans within the next six months, if not before,” she said during the committee meeting on Tuesday. 

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KSU is also planning new capital projects and academic programs. In the 2024-26 state budget, the university will receive $5 million for the design of a new health science building. KSU has recently developed and established three academic colleges on campus and added new programs, such as engineering and cybersecurity. 

Lawmakers’ comments

Several lawmakers praised KSU’s progress. Lexington Democratic Sen. Reggie Thomas noted that KSU awarded its highest number of degrees during a commencement ceremony this spring. Alexandria Republican Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer said she “love(d) your momentum” after asking about recruitment of Kentucky students, particularly in Northern Kentucky. 

During both the committee meeting and the subcommittee meeting, Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, asked university officials about an update on how KSU was addressing issues raised by its accrediting agency. The warning was issued after “a determination of significant non-compliance with the Core Requirements or Standards of the Principles of Accreditation.” 

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Dukes said when she started on the board, KSU was behind on its completing annual audits, but has since made progress on finishing them. The audits were one of the accreditation issues. Dukes added the university is working with an external audit firm before giving an update to SACSCOC in October. 

Tipton, who is a co-chair of the education committee, also asked about the “pretty much non-existent” relationship between the Board of Regents and the KSU Foundation. In April, the board announced in a letter to KSU alumni and stakeholders that it was “freezing” its relationship with the foundation, citing “a shadow of doubt on the transparency and stewardship” over donations made to the foundation. 

Earlier this year, the Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld a Franklin County Circuit Court decision that the KSU Foundation was a public agency and must comply with open records requests. The appellate court awarded The State Journal, Frankfort’s newspaper, summary judgment and attorneys’ fees in the lawsuit. 

The newspaper had originally filed an open records request for documentation about a previous university president’s travel in 2021, which the foundation denied. 

In response to Tipton, Dukes said the relationship was frozen in light of the lawsuit and because the board was also asking for financial information from the foundation and received “sporadic incomplete information over the last two years.”

Kentucky State University officials brief lawmakers on progress since 2022 bailout
Bobby McCool (LRC Public Information)

Dukes said it was in KSU’s best interest to stop sending funds to the foundation until the lawsuit was ended against the newspaper, requested records were provided and a meeting was scheduled to revise and modify the agreement between the university and foundation. 

During the subcommittee meeting, Tipton also asked officials about unpaid student balances. Citing monthly reports from CPE, he said the university had outstanding student receivables of $23.8 million and called it a “big red flag.” 

Dunaway said the unpaid student balances were “a product of administrations prior to the president coming” to the university and, with board approval, KSU plans to write off $21 million as “bad debt.” Dunaway added that KSU is working to let returning students know of financial options, like loans and scholarships. 

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Bobby McCool, R-Van Lear, said at the end of Wednesday’s meeting that the officials had “done a fantastic job.” 

“You’ve got a long way to go, but every stride you’re making is in a positive direction,” he said.