There were four people who came together initially to concoct a very large project: To start a four-year university from scratch in Downtown Somerset.
Local businessman Demetrios Haseotes and Michael Keck, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck’s older brother, probed the financial aspects of the enormous project.
The late Dr. Michael Hail provided an academic vision.
And Mayor Keck himself took it upon himself to step up to the plate and take that big swing.
“This idea was born over a period of several months and numerous conversations,” Alan Keck said. “Dr. Hail wanted very much to bring additional opportunities for higher education into Somerset.”
Out of those meetings, the University of Somerset was born.
“At some point we realized that starting from scratch was the way to go,” the mayor added. “Yes, it was a wild idea. But we are 100 percent certain that it can work for this community.”
The initial community reaction to the University of Somerset announcement was overwhelmingly positive.
It was revealed last night that a board of directors is being formed for the four-year university that will be built in what is now the Cundiff Square area of Downtown Somerset.
“The University of Somerset is a concept that has me very excited,” said Bobby Clue, Somerset-Pulaski Chamber of Commerce Executive Director. “Aside from the fact that universities are hotbeds of innovation and entrepreneurship, universities are significant investors in the communities they reside.
“Universities provide students with the skills to compete in increasingly global workplaces and are themselves major employers,” Clue added. “This kind of forward thinking is why Somerset is poised to see tremendous growth over the next 10 years.”
Chris Girdler, the President and CEO of SPEDA — and a founding board member of the University of Somerset — shared Clue’s enthusiasm.
“I commend Somerset Mayor Alan Keck for his vision, determination and plan of action. Many people over the last several decades have long dreamed and talked about our community ‘needing a four-year university’. Mayor Keck in short order has gone about putting those dreams into reality,” Girdler said. “Upon learning of this endeavor I was extremely excited for many different reasons, but in particular, in my role as President of SPEDA, the tremendous economic impact an institution like this will have on our community and the entire region cannot be overstated.
“Education and workforce development is a top priority for SPEDA and without question the University of Somerset will lead the way in offering a full range of undergraduate degrees that will value our past, strengthen the present, but also build for the future,” Girdler added. “A realm of training and educational opportunities will be offered, preparing people for the jobs of the future and collaborating with the private sector to ensure the highest of expectations are being exceeded as only a private research university can deliver upon.”
As chief of the community’s economic development agency, Girdler is excited about the growth potential having a university downtown will spark.
“The sheer local economic impact of having a private, not-for-profit university downtown will be phenomenal,” Girdler said. “The jobs and opportunities Somerset and Pulaski County will be able to attract as the headquarters of an institution of this magnitude will be the kind that our people can build a wonderful life around.
“A 2018 Study was conducted and demonstrated a university of this type would have a $128 million impact and create over 1,000 jobs in our community, which I think will only grow exponentially over time,” Girdler added. “The sky is the limit and SPEDA looks forward to seeing what the future holds. We are just getting started.”
State Senator Rick Girdler was also enthusiastic about the announcement.
“This is a bold, courageous move, not only for our community, but for the entire region,” the State Senator said. “I applaud Mayor Keck for his willingness to go above and beyond for Somerset and Pulaski County. There are huge possibilities with a four-year university coming to the downtown area.”
The announcement was also well-received by local education leaders.
“We are fortunate to currently have some outstanding postsecondary partners in Somerset,” said Somerset Schools Superintendent Kyle Lively. “However increasing educational opportunities within our community is always beneficial. The more opportunities high school graduates have available to them close to home, the greater the chance of retaining our best and brightest.”
Pulaski Schools Superintendent Patrick Richardson agreed with Lively’s assessment.
“It’s all about the opportunities our community can provide to young people,” Richardson said. “The ability to educate, build knowledge and build on the population of our community is important to our future. Pulaski County Schools values our community partners in education. It makes us all stronger.”
Dr. Carey Castle, the President of Somerset Community College, was extremely open to working with the new four-year university.
“We will be happy to work with the University of Somerset,” Castle said. “I’m sure we can work out ways to compliment each other. We work with many colleges and universities to make sure our credits transfer. As long as they’re accredited, there won’t be any issues at all.
“The more educational opportunity that is out there for students, the better,” Castle added.
Congressman Hal Rogers said the University of Somerset would be a welcome addition to a growing list of higher education opportunities for regional students.
“I’ve said for many years, if we could keep just one generation of our best and brightest students here at home, we could transform the future of southern and eastern Kentucky,” said Rogers. “For far too long, we have exported our students to bigger cities to pursue a college degree and a career. It’s time to turn the tide and create a direct path to achieve their dreams in their hometowns, and help us build a brighter future in our region.
“As the University Center of Southern Kentucky continues to grow, alongside Somerset Community College, and the University of Campbellsville’s Somerset campus, a stand-alone private institution would add to the unique educational opportunities available for our students, affording more and more of them to stay home to make our region a better place to live,” the Congressman added.