Home » One-On-One: Tom Layzell

One-On-One: Tom Layzell

By wmadministrator

Ed Lane: From a strictly economic development perspective, why is increasing postsecondary and adult education important for Kentucky’s future?
Thomas Layzell: Nothing is more important to Kentucky than increasing educational attainment. I don’t care what major social problem you evaluate, you will find the root of the problem is educational. Higher levels of education are very directly related to improved economic development. Kentucky’s House Bill One had two major purposes: to increase the standard of living of Kentuckians and to improve the quality of life. Increased educational attainment will help achieve both goals.

Today and tomorrow, the creation of jobs will rely on a better educated workforce. Our major marker is the baccalaureate degree because that’s Kentucky’s biggest deficiency. It’s not just the degree itself; it’s what kind of degree. Math, science and technology – those are the drivers today. Kentucky not only has to emphasize getting overall educational levels up, but it also has to get the right kinds of educational attainment in order to be competitive.
Depending on which set of statistics you are looking, Kentucky is ranked nationwide around 47th in terms of baccalaureate attainment. Even though the state has been outstripping the nation in terms of its increase in college degrees during the last six years, the benchmarks are moving too. So Kentucky remains very low down on that statistic. CPE projects Kentucky will be at the national average in 2020. Kentucky is going to have to get 32 percent of the adult population college educated. Kentucky is now at 21-22 percent. The state has improved from about 17 percent to about 20-21 percent over the course of the last six years. We’ve made some significant gains.

EL: Is Kentucky’s K-12 school system adequately preparing Kentuckians for postsecondary education?

No. Fifty percent of our students are coming under-educated and are not prepared for college level work. One of the big challenges is for CPE and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) to work together to reduce the number of under-educated students. KDE is no more satisfied than CPE with these statistics.  Under-prepared students are a potential major stumbling block in CPE’s pursuit of this goal. Kentucky has got to get more kids to stay in high school and become better prepared for a postsecondary education.

EL: Is the cost to attend colleges and technical schools affordable for Kentucky’s citizens?

TL:Compared to contiguous states and the nation, Kentucky has managed to remain relatively affordable. A couple of soft spots were identified. One was the independent adult student who is going to be an increasingly important part of our market. These students fall between the cracks on most financial aid programs. We’ve got to find a way to provide financial accessibility for that group of students.

The Kentucky Community and Technical College System is Kentucky’s low-cost alternative but it’s had to raise tuition substantially. CPE is reviewing ways to reduce that growth. Kentucky has to have a low-cost alternative and right now KCTCS is that alternative. CPE remains concerned about the rate of tuition increases at KCTCS.

EL: What has been the increase in Kentucky’s undergraduate enrollment during the last 10 years?

TL: It’s gone up. CPE just received preliminary figures and Fall 2007 is a record enrollment. Final data will be available by November. UK’s freshman enrollment was down a little bit. UK is trying to hold its faculty-student ratios down. KCTCS had its highest enrollment ever.

When you throw in the independent colleges, there are over 240,000 students enrolled. Undergraduate enrollment is probably about 210,000 students; the independent institutions make up about 30,000 of the total. When CPE first started, enrollment was at about 160,000. So it’s been a steady march upwards along with degree production.

EL: What is the six-year graduation rate in Kentucky’s public universities and how does our state rank nationally?

In terms of Kentucky’s rate of progress, it’s been very good. The state’s six-year college graduation rate has gone up about a point a year from the beginning of reform – from about 37 percent to 47 percent rate. So that’s pretty good. Kentucky is still below the national average, which is in the 50-55 percent range.

EL: What long-range plan does CPE have?

CPE’s “double the numbers initiative” is working on increasing graduate rates and the percentage of college graduates in Kentucky. The program depends on four things happening:
• More students staying in high school, graduating, and coming prepared to postsecondary institutions.
• Increasing the number of adults who have a GED and migrate into postsecondary education.
• Tripling the number of transfers out of KCTCS (to four-year institutions).
• Raising the graduation rates to around 56 percent, essentially another 10 points from where Kentucky is now.
Doing all of these things will create a 5 percent in growth in baccalaureate degree production. Kentucky is also going to need about 80,000 more people to inmigrate to the commonwealth with educational credentials and stay here. Which means Kentucky has to have the jobs here to attract and hire people from other states. CPE has to have an intense and ongoing collaboration with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development on job strategies.

I just can not emphasis the “double the numbers initiative” enough in terms of its ability to focus Kentucky’s attention on what is important. Kentucky had over 500,000 people in the 2000 U.S. Census with some sort of postsecondary education, but who did not have a degree. Part of CPE’s effort is to get adult students interested in finishing what they started.

CPE found about 11,000 students who had at least 90 hours, but no degree, and about 3,500 of those had 150 hours, but no degree.
The traditional sector in postsecondary education can learn a lot from Sullivan University and the University of Phoenix’s students. Private universities are making education “user friendly” for students.  I think a lot about Al Sullivan. He’s done a great job in making postsecondary education attractive to students. There are limits on how far state universities can go in that direction.
CPE had a temporary secretary in its office for awhile who was a graduate of Kentucky State University and was working at night on a masters degree from the University of Phoenix – driving to Louisville. I asked her one day, “Why – just out of curiosity – did you go with University of Phoenix?” A very simple answer: “They had the course I wanted at the time I wanted it.” She was willing to invest a little more money; it cost more because of the accessibility.

We see already with this “double the numbers initiative” that behaviorally things are changing on traditional campuses. University of Kentucky President Lee Todd talks a lot about how the top 20 plan has begun to change behavior on UK’s campus. Another example, the University of Louisville and its president Jim Ramsey would confirm this: UofL had not paid much attention to its retention and graduation rates. Then UofL began to do some restructuring internally that has changed its graduation rates, an increase anywhere from six to 10 percentage points.

When I say restructuring, I mean making the classes more convenient, making sure that you intervene with students, and that the university has good counseling and student support services available when students need them.  One of the probable keys to Murray State University’s high graduation rate is that when it created residential colleges there was more interaction with students. Murray didn’t just let students miss class and not follow up with them. (Former Murray President) King Alexander told me that if he got word students were not doing what they should, he would call them up personally.

EL: Lee Todd and his team put together a Top 20 business plan and it seems to be very successful. The plan delivered a good message to the Kentucky General Assembly and communicated to the campus and general public what the university’s goals were and how much it would cost. Do you feel the business plan concept was successful? 

Yes, UK’s Top 20 plan was very successful. CPE’s “double the numbers” plan is kind of a macro version of UK’s plan. Other institutions in the state are at various stages of developing their business plans. The University of Louisville has a developed strategic plan for a number of years, but what made it successful, in my view, was a simple message to the General Assembly: “You do this, we’ll do that.”

EL: How has KCTCS progressed since its reorganization?

TL: KCTCS is a major success of Kentucky’s education reform. Reform actually did two big things. It created the kind of community and technical college system that the state is going to need to progress educationally, not disparaging anything that UK had previously done. It freed up UK to pursue its rightful mission to be a major land grant and research institution.

KCTCS has been a huge success and I give KCTCS President Mike McCall and his team a lot of credit for that. Just from being around a long time, I know how politically difficult it must have been to pull the community and technical colleges together. Mike did it with a minimum of muss and fuss. So that’s been a major success.

EL: Gordon Davies, the first head of CPE said, “It was worth being blunt – and it was worth being fired. We started a revolution. Even revolutions that fail add something to our experiences.” How would you evaluate Dr. Davies tenure at CPE?

TL: He got CPE off the ground. Apparently his tenure was controversial; let’s put it that way. Education reform needed somebody like Gordon to come in and get the initiative underway. He was a very experienced, very smart guy. He had the right view of what needed to be done. I give him a lot of credit, as I do Mike McCall. Reform could have floundered at the onset, if either Gordon or Mike had not been here.

The reality in any state is legislators are going to respond to their constituents and try to bring projects home. But Gordon Davies emphasized focusing educational investments on the strategic outcomes that you want to achieve. Gordon helped get the “Bucks for Brains” program up and running. That concept was really the brainchild of CPE and Ron Greenburg, in particular. The trust funds were an important tool.
Kentucky’s education reform was new territory in the United States when Gordon Davies was here. The “kick back” Gordon got from legislators should have been expected because reform set in motion a different way of thinking.

EL: Has “Bucks for Brains” been a successful program for higher education?

TL: Bucks for Brains is essentially a matching program to create endowments and was part of the genius of Gov. Paul Patton to increase the intellectual capital of the commonwealth. The best way to do that was to provide some financial incentives to attract intellectual capital. Realizing that you couldn’t just put all state money into the program, they created the “Bucks for Brains” match program, which was pretty innovative at the time. A dollar of state money would leverage a dollar of private money. It’s been very successful.

Over the years, the program has generated $700 million, about $350 million in state funds, which has generated $350 million in matching gifts. In the 2008-2010 biennial budget we are asking for another round of funding for the “Bucks for Brains” program.

EL: How does CPE work with the state’s colleges, universities, and technical schools in the budget process?

TL: CPE’s major role in the budget process is to present a consolidated or unified budget request to the governor and the General Assembly regarding the needs of postsecondary and adult education.

EL: During your five years at CPE, what did you consider to be the best aspects of your administration?

TL: In 2004, CPE adopted a set of uniform placement policies that said to high school students for the first time: If you come to Kentucky with these test scores and skill sets, Kentucky will guarantee that you go on to credit-bearing course work.
The “double the numbers initiative” was started about two or three years ago and utilized Lee Todd’s business plan approach.  What does it mean to be a Top 20 public research university and what will it take to get there?
In CPE’s case it was, “What does it really mean to say Kentucky will be at least average in educational attainment and what might it take to get there?” So CPE developed projections. From there, CPE developed task forces to achieve specific goals – like getting more students out of the educational pipeline with a college degree.

EL: Do you favor authorizing state universities to bond new construction without the approval by the Kentucky General Assembly?

Yes, I do. So far, I’ve not been able to persuade anybody of that other than my fellow presidents who don’t need any persuading. The two states where I was previously employed (Illinois and Mississippi) granted institutions revenue bond authority, which meant bonding didn’t have to go through the General Assembly. The colleges and universities were governed by the disciplines of the financial market. I’ve supported revenue bond legislation since I’ve been here. The market is not going to let a bond issue proceed unless adequate revenue is available to support it.

EL: What recommendations or advice would you give to the next president of CPE?

My recommendation to Brad Cowgill and CPE is to continue to keep focused on the outcomes. The “double the numbers initiative” will help CPE succeed. Don’t get diverted from it. Don’t let people say to you, “This is not realistic.” It is realistic.
Brad and I have had a standing meeting every two weeks since he became budget director. I have very high regard for him, his intellect, work ethic, enthusiasm and his interest in educational policies.

EL: Why did you decide to retire at this time?

Well, I’m retiring from full-time work. I’m 69 and been in this business 42 years. My wife and I have some things we want to do, so it’s time to do something different. I’m not looking for another full-time job, but if I can keep my hand in higher education on a part-time basis, I’ll do that.

EL: Do you have a closing remark?

TL: Kentucky needs to stay the educational reform course it has undertaken. The public policy makers adopted a magnificent set of legislative enactments – starting with KERA, Senate Bill One, and House Bill 572. There is not another state in the country that has the kind of legislative and public policy framework that Kentucky has.
Kentucky’s educational reform is not a strategic plan you can put on the shelf; it’s the law.
So people like me, Brad Cowgill, Lee Todd, Jim Ramsey and all presidents and the General Assembly members and the governors of the future can keep coming back and say this is the public policy of the state.
It was comprehensive, including everything from K-12 through graduate school and adult education – which was a stroke of genius.

Reform changed the focus of the discussion from “What do the institutions need?” to “What does the state need, and how can the institutions help meet that need?” That’s a radical change in focus. It hasn’t been smooth because institutions will be institutions and people will be people.
CPE and the Kentucky Department of Education submitted the first ever joint budget request during the 2006 session. The budget was mostly about using technology to bring the two systems closer together in their ability to track students through school and enhance our ability to deliver instruction using technology. Now that’s unusual, but more of that will happen in the future because of the significant overlap between the two agencies. That was a good effort.

CPE created what is, so far, the only regional stewardship initiative in the country for the comprehensive institutions. That is an attempt to make institutions responsible for driving the economic development and educational development in their regions – putting them front and center. If you’d asked any institution three or four years ago – what do you do for your region, you would have gotten a lot of conversation about administration, public service and a lot of unsystematic approaches.

Northern Kentucky is probably a model in the country for a university that has integrated itself into that region in a way that helped it be at the center of a lot of things that are important to that region’s development.  In the long term, regional stewardship is going to pay some large dividends for the universities and the communities they serve.