HAZARD — With a bill aimed at transforming the University of Pikeville into a public school no longer on the table in the legislature, and questions still looming on the best way to increase the number of people achieving bachelor’s degrees in the region, officials with the University Center of the Mountains are making note of the over 850 local students who have graduated with four-year degrees, all while the program added new partners and dozens of new degrees since it began in 2003.
The University Center of the Mountains offers what officials call a one-of-a-kind opportunity to the people in an area that has no publicly funded four-year colleges. UCM and its six partner universities offer a combination of distance learning and online classes to give students the chance to earn degrees from Morehead State, Eastern Kentucky University, Lindsey Wilson, Midway, Cumberland, and Kentucky State.
Hazard Community and Technical College President Dr. Stephen Greiner said that UCM was created by several concerned citizens as a response to a problem.
“Right after the census statistics came out and they talked about the college attainment rate, specifically the bachelor’s degree attainment rate in Kentucky, it was 9.1 percent,” said Greiner. “A group of local individuals saw that our statistics for our Kentucky River Region was even less than that, it was 8.6 (percent). They said we have to do something about this.”
This group, including the late Hazard Mayor Bill Gorman, began to develop what many thought was a “crazy” plan of bringing four-year degrees to Perry County.
“And what they did was they came up with this idea of a partnership, a collaboration of multiple institutions in conjunction with the community college, because of course we would offer the first two years,” said Greiner.
By allowing students who may not have otherwise had the money or availability to get a degree to go to one of six colleges all in one building, and all in a convenient location for them, they opened up the opportunities for these students. By having the first two years at HCTC the students saved money, and by being able to live at home the students saved even more.
By creating these partnerships, UCM is currently able to offer 43 different majors for both undergraduate and graduate study. They have around 100 students graduating this year, and have been able to graduate over 850 since its inception began with only around six students in 2003.
This group of people that came together to create the University Center of the Mountains sought to offer an educational alternative to several groups of students.
“They were more concerned about the students that weren’t able to go away, they were place-bound,” said Greiner.
Another concern was that many students who do go away to school begin internships, student teaching, or practicums which often times lead to jobs, keeping them in the area they study and not bringing their knowledge back home to Eastern Kentucky.
By being educated locally, they have the opportunity to earn their degrees locally, keeping the talent in Eastern Kentucky and helping to reverse what has been called “brain drain” in Appalachia.
Some officials had feared that the future of UCM had been put into question with the proposed House bill to make the University of Pikeville a state university by using coal severance money from 12 counties. Currently, UCM uses $150,000 in coal severance from Perry County coupled with donations. The House Bill sought to use $1 million in multi-county coal severance from each of the 12 counties that will be in its proposed service area.
Early this week, however, House Speaker Greg Stumbo announced a change in the legislation that seeks to create a program to commit coal severance for a new financial aid program aimed at increasing degree attainment in Eastern Kentucky. He said while he still supports a public UPike, it isn’t feasible during this session of General Assembly.
In the meantime, UCM officials continue to work toward some large goals. They have added master’s degree programs and are looking to possibly start doctorate programs as well. Greiner said that he would love to see UPike become a partner of UCM and possibly help them with this effort.