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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Western Kentucky University's Honors Program Building Project Draws Opposition, Even As Regents Meet To Approve It.

Honors College grad opposes $22M center

Opposition to the $22 million Honors College/International Center planned for Western Kentucky University has surfaced on another front.
Mark L. Reeves, a May 2012 Honors College graduate and international student worker, sent an open letter this week to members of the WKU Board of Regents, asking them to not approve a property purchase at 1590 Normal St. and a bonds sale Friday at their regular meeting, saying that approach would be “unwise.”

The Kentucky General Assembly approved the project as WKU’s contribution to a large capital projects program planned for several universities in Kentucky. University presidents and Gov. Steve Beshear approached lawmakers with the plan, where the state approves the projects while the universities themselves carry the debts. Currently, the Honors College and International Center at WKU are both housed in former residences on the main campus in Bowling Green.

Reeves objects to the planned $22 million in bonds and opposes the entire $37 million general obligation bond issue, which includes $15 million for the third phase of the renovation of Downing Student Union. He sketches a four-part argument in the letter.

Like Faculty Regent Patti Minter, Reeves objects to the university using revenue from international students’ tuition, particularly Navitas students. Reeves wrote that when WKU made the partnership with Navitas in January 2010, “ambitious promises” were stated about the number of students expected to come to WKU for the program. “In November 2010, Navitas projected it would bring 250 students in fall 2011, but even in the fall 2012 Navitas enrollment sat only at 126. By spring 2013, only approximately 56 students had matriculated into WKU, providing the projected revenue stream for debt service,” he wrote in the letter to the regents.

WKU President Gary Ransdell told the regents during a June 21 committee meeting, that if there weren’t 150 Navitas students to provide the necessary tuition revenue for paying the debt service on the bonds, any 150 of the 900 international students enrolled at the university would be used. At that committee meeting, university officials showed projections of growing numbers of international students in Bowling Green. Also, university officials this summer traveled to China to ink agreements to bring other international students to WKU.

“If, as been suggested, Navitas does not provide an adequate revenue stream, President Ransdell has proposed using the new difference in tuition paid by international undergraduate students from out-of-state students. However, to do so would lock in higher tuition rates for international undergraduate students for the next decades, removing WKU’s key competitive advantage in recruiting international students: low cost,” Reeves wrote. “As a friend of many international students, I can assure you that this is WKU’s key advantage, and locking in higher rates will hurt that advantage.”

Navitas at WKU offers a University Pathway Program and Pre-Masters Program designed to prepare international students for university studies in America, according to its website.

Reeves also states that while WKU attracts a large number of international students from Saudi Arabia, “... the Saudi government pays their tuition (plus a stipend), and this program is highly contingent on global politics: Saudi international numbers nosedived nationwide after 9/11, and the current Saudi enrollment growth dates to a 2005 political agreement between the Saudi King and then-President George W. Bush. Moreover, due to high numbers of Saudi students at WKU already, the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission has recently announced a freeze on sending Saudi students majoring in Business or Engineering (the main majors of Saudi students at WKU) to WKU,” Reeves wrote.

“... when Saudi students are removed from the international student population, international student growth at WKU is relatively flat from 2003 (497 students) to 2011 (505 students), the latest year for which country-specific data is publicly available,” Reeves wrote.

Reeves also told the regents in the letter that Honors College students should also pay in some fashion on the building’s debt service, not just international students; the project is not a priority to students at WKU and “WKU does not need to take on this massive debt project at a time when budgets have been cut and the fiscal future appears unclear,” Reeves wrote.

Reeves added that he doesn’t want the regents to shelve accommodations for the Honors College and international students at WKU. “I should stress that I do not urge the Board to reject building projects to create new or renovate existing spaces for the Honors College or international students. Rather, this specific project does not merit the risk of such a huge bond or such a huge, long-term financial commitment from WKU. Smaller-scale and lower-cost projects with different funding models should be encouraged and explored, in my opinion,” Reeves wrote.

Reeves said his views are his own, and don’t reflect his election in April as executive vice president of WKU’s Student Government Association.
The regents meet at 8 a.m. Friday in the Mass Media and Technology Hall.



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