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Kentucky State University’s rebound, one year into president’s tenure

Kentucky State University plans to begin bachelor’s degree programs in manufacturing engineering technology, cybersecurity and biological and agricultural engineering.
McKenna Horsley
/
Kentucky Lantern
Kentucky State University plans to begin bachelor’s degree programs in manufacturing engineering technology, cybersecurity and biological and agricultural engineering.

FRANKFORT — A year into his presidency, Koffi Akakpo is optimistic that Kentucky State University will enroll significantly more students this fall.

In a recent interview, Akakpo said Kentucky’s only historically Black public university is on its way to overcoming problems that put KSU into crisis a few years ago.

“We’re still working on it, but I’m pleased where we are,” he said. “Policies have been updated. People have been held accountable.”

Akakpo, previously president of Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, said his vision is to move KSU toward sustainability while supporting academic programs “that meet the needs of our region, the state’s and our country.”

He pointed to new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs at KSU. The university has received approval to begin bachelor’s programs in manufacturing engineering technology, cybersecurity and biological and agricultural engineering.

“That doesn’t mean we will neglect our liberal arts mission, but as things evolve throughout the world, we also need STEM to be part of what we do,” Akakpo said.

Last fall, the university’s total enrollment was 1,689. Akakpo said this fall’s goal is 3,000. He predicted KSU will either meet that number or be very close to it.

In 2022, the Kentucky General Assemblypassed legislation that required the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) to oversee a management improvement plan for KSU and allocated $23 million to offset the university’s budget shortfalls.

A previous administration had misused funds , and KSU had received a warning from its accreditation body.

Travis Powell, vice president and general counsel for CPE, said KSU has “made a lot of progress” since the management plan was implemented, but “there’s a lot to be done.” KSU representatives recently told a legislative committee KSU had completed 53 of its 130 improvement plan objectives.

Powell said CPE has seen improvements in revising policies and procedures and increased and more accurate financial reporting by KSU. KSU had a general operating budget of about $32 million, according to a budget overview for the 2023-24 fiscal year,.

“There’s definitely a path forward for them, and we’re pleased with the progress we’ve seen today,” Powell said.

CPE’s final report for the 2022 legislation is due to the General Assembly in November 2025, Powell said. While KSU technically has until then to complete the list of deliverables, CPE outlined a schedule to complete them by the end of the 2024-25 fiscal year, giving a few months to make final evaluations.

Akakpo has brought stability and a vision for KSU to the institution over the past year, Powell said. The confidence has also permeated through the university’s staff and hires he’s made, Powell added.

“He’s very strong in his position that KSU can thrive and be a shining star in the state of Kentucky,” Powell said of Akakpo.

Frankfort Mayor Layne Wilkerson, also praised Akakpo’s leadership. Wilkerson was on KSU’s presidential search committee. The mayor said that Frankfort and KSU have had a long history; KSU was founded in the state’s capital in 1886, more than 130 years ago. This time period will likely be remembered as a “watershed moment” for KSU.

“I think he has the right mentality to change the mindset of the university, to start thinking bigger and to expect more,” Wilkerson said of Akakpo.

Wilkerson said he hopes KSU continues to focus on programs that benefit the region’s workforce, particularly in nursing, agriculture, computer science and cybersecurity, and support 21st century careers that will be in demand.

“What’s good for Kentucky State is good for Frankfort,” Wilkerson said. “Their success is our success, and I’m optimistic for the future.”

Akakpo said he’s felt support from local, state and federal leaders since joining KSU.

“Everybody wants to see KSU do well,” Akakpo said.

Kentucky State University enrollment.
Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education
Kentucky State University enrollment.

‘Look at the future’

As KSU improves, Powell said the institution could become something the General Assembly wants to invest in from a strategic standpoint to move Kentucky forward.

“I think KSU expects to be funded fairly based on the students it serves and its size. But as far as any additional support beyond that, it’s always welcomed,” Powell said. “And I think if it does happen, it’ll be based on individual initiatives that come up over time, and who knows what those will be.”

During this year’s legislative session, the General Assembly set aside $60 million for KSUto use for campus maintenance and repairs in legislation earlier this year, along with $5 million for the design of a health science education building.

Powell said if KSU can focus on building a strong base in the short term, that can help with sustainability moving ahead. While it’s one of Kentucky’s smallestr public postsecondary institutions, it can focus on being high quality at the opportunities it offers students.

“What I see for KSU is just being that really strong HBCU partner in Frankfort institution that is super high quality,” Powell said. “It’s never going to be for everybody. Some people are going to want that big school experience, but you’ll get that small school experience at a state school price at a really high quality level. I think that’s the ultimate future for the institution.”

Akakpo said that at the moment, KSU is being pulled in different directions as it continues to complete goals under the management plan and review documents for its accreditation body, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). KSU is scheduled to give an update to SACSCOC in October.

In August, the Board of Regents will review the institution’s five year plan during its retreat, Akakpo said.

“Once all this is done, then we’re going to sit down together and look at the future and see how we can work in the greatest integration and work to make KSU one of the best HBCUs in the nation,” Akakpo said.

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.
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