SOMERSET, Ky. — Building upon a tradition of academic excellence that can be traced back to the Civil War era with the founding of Somerset College, community leaders unveiled plans on Oct. 23 to build a traditional four-year university in the heart of downtown Somerset.
The University of Somerset is a private, nonprofit research university founded in the classic liberal arts tradition of undergraduate education while embracing technological innovation and scientific development. Built on the proposition that principles should have a place in higher education, the University of Somerset will equip the next generation to lead in the global marketplace by instilling the core values on which the United States was founded, including liberty, integrity, patriotism, and private and civic virtue.
When it opens to students, the University of Somerset will offer a full spectrum of undergraduate degrees in the arts and sciences, complemented by a select offering of master’s degrees and doctoral programs for students interested in pursuing graduate education. Students should expect to be able to pursue fields of study that include English, education, mathematics, political science and government, business and economics, biology, chemistry, physics, as well as more specialized programs such as public administration, artificial intelligence, homeland security, nanotechnology, data science, and other cutting-edge technology and innovative research programs.
“This is critical for the future of Somerset. This is critical for the future of our region and our commonwealth,” said Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, a member of the university’s founding board of directors. “We have to have balance in higher ed. The University of Somerset will bring that. We will demand complex ideas and unique discussion. This university will empower spirited leaders and thinkers and transform this community.”
Keck said the university will enhance progress that has already been made in downtown Somerset. Tentative plans are to build the University of Somerset in Cundiff Square, an ailing nine-acre development downtown that was once a center of commerce and the site of Town Spring, where Somerset was founded.
A timeline for the university’s development will be announced in the coming months.
“Somerset and Pulaski County, in many ways, are experiencing a resurgence and a renaissance – a dawn of a new era,” Keck said. “Downtown Somerset is again bustling with commerce and activity. The arts and culture scene is blossoming. The primary and secondary school systems — both city and county — are centers of community pride. The excellence of our teaching community is abundantly clear as is evidenced by exemplary student outcomes. And it is time for the next chapter in our community’s development.”
Keck said the unveiling of the University of Somerset is that next chapter, addressing a challenge the community has faced for decades — that its best and brightest students have to leave Somerset to pursue a four-year degree, a master’s degree, or a doctorate.
“That is about to change,” Keck said. “Now is the time for us to harness the tremendous amount of homegrown talent with which our community is blessed. Additionally, this university will ultimately prove to be a tremendous economic engine for our community. The jobs and opportunity we will be able to attract as home to a private research university will be the types of jobs that our folks can acquire to build a life and career.”
Research shows a four-year university could be a significant contributor to Somerset and Pulaski County’s economy. According to an economic impact and feasibility study conducted by Bluegrass Research Alliance in 2018, a four-year institution could generate approximately $128 million in annual economic activity and more than 1,000 jobs in the community.
The same study surveyed Pulaski County residents about the need for education at this level in the community. Seventy-seven percent of adult respondents said they “definitely would” have considered a four-year college in Somerset and Pulaski County if it was an option — 79 percent of high school students said they would consider it as an option as well. The university will not only serve Pulaski and surrounding counties, but will attract talented students to Somerset from across the region, Kentucky, and the United States.
Board members see the University of Somerset as a complement to the community’s already thriving Somerset Community College, Keck said, offering a local alternative for obtaining a four-year degree to students who attend there.
In addition to Somerset’s mayor, the board of directors includes City of Somerset Chief of Staff Jeffrey Edwards, and local business leaders Demetrios Haseotes, Alton Blakley Jr. and Teresa Trimble Hail. Chris Girdler, former State Senator and current SPEDA President & CEO, has also joined the board. A full slate of directors will soon be announced.
The University of Somerset will be led by President Dr. Jeremy Hall and Vice President Michael Keck, MSc., MA., following in the footsteps and vision of its founding president, the late Dr. Michael Hail. Hail, an esteemed Morehead State University professor and member of the Somerset Independent school board, was instrumental in launching the university and defining its vision.
“Dr. Hail’s effort and courage will always be valued and admired,” Mayor Keck said.
Keck said the success of the University of Somerset depends, in part, upon the community’s support, and in the coming weeks, residents will have the opportunity to learn more and get involved.
“The fullest potential and maximum impact of the university will be realized as many of you contribute your time, talents, and treasure to cultivating a world-class university right here in Somerset,” Keck said. “In the weeks and months ahead, those opportunities will be presented, and we will share in this amazing journey together.”
For more information about the University of Somerset, visit the website at www.universityofsomerset.org.