Stivers wants to further explore a four-year university in Hazard, endow collaborative research

Published 4:33 pm Monday, February 12, 2024

By McKenna Horsley
Kentucky Lantern

Senate President Robert Stivers wants another study on how to expand higher education opportunities in Southeastern Kentucky.

This time, the Manchester Republican is sponsoring Senate Joint Resolution 132, calling on the Council on Postsecondary Education to study turning the Hazard Community and Technical College into a four-year residential university.

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The idea was studied as part of another recent CPE study directed by legislation from Stivers last year. CPE’s “preferred approach” to expanding higher education in Southeastern Kentucky was to make HCTC a stand-alone college or university offering both sub-baccalaureate technical programs and a few bachelor’s programs “in line with area workforce demand.” However, the report said CPE could not provide an unqualified endorsement of this option without more stakeholder engagement, risk-benefit analysis and understanding of student demand.
In a floor speech, Stivers said CPE had found the region is an “educational desert.”

The report identified the Kentucky River Area Development District as the best location for an increased university presence, calling the area a “postsecondary desert,” lacking broad access to a university. Hazard is centrally located in the district at the Hal Rogers Parkway and KY 15.

“So this resolution just looks to get further information about both the viability from an economic development standpoint, the competition of other institutions and the impact on them, and the overall costs and feasibility of developing something of that nature and what the governmental structure should be,” Stivers said. “Should it be kind of like a hybrid model of baccalaureate plus technical degrees and certifications?”

The Senate president also filed Senate Bill 1, which would set up endowed research funding for research consortiums between two or more public universities. He said the funding could encourage Kentucky universities to work together on projects in growing fields, such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and more.

“It’s great to have our universities play on the courts and the football fields, but this would incentivize them because you’d have to have at least two universities make the joint application to do some type of research project to bring their students in, to bring their investigators in, to encourage faculty to come there to do cutting-edge research,” Stivers said.

Hours after filing his legislation, Stivers spoke about his goals in front of hundreds of business leaders during the Kentucky Chamber Day Dinner in Lexington. There, Stivers called for four-laning the Hal Rogers Parkway, much like the Mountain Parkway is being widened, to open travel between London and Hazard.

“Let’s don’t be competitors. Let’s be collaborators. Let’s look at and see how we can develop cutting-edge technology and be competitive in an era in a world that is now moving in that direction,” Stivers told the crowd. “We have the time, we have the opportunity and we have the resources.”