Success and Failure in Higher Education

Nelson County, Marion County, and Washington County are collectively referred to by their inhabitants as the Kentucky Holy Land, and I don’t think the expression is meant to be entirely whimsical.  Settled in the late 18th century by English Catholics from Maryland, the rolling green country is to this day marked by cattle farms, distilleries, and Marian shrines.  The boy Jefferson Davis received his instruction here at a Dominican priory established by refugees from the French Revolution, while Stephen Foster is said to have composed our elegiac and politically incorrect state anthem at Federal Hill in Bardstown.  My own acquaintance with the Kentucky Holy Land I owe to Southern Renascence writer Elizabeth Madox Roberts, who wove her grandmother’s reminiscences of the Cumberland Gap passage into celebratory poetry and fiction about pioneer life.  Roberts is buried in the cemetery of her little hometown, Springfield.  To pay my respects I have had occasion to visit Springfield, as well as nearby Saint Catharine College, which used to sponsor an annual series of lectures and discussions in her honor.

I say “used to” because as of July the college has closed.  As a penalty for Saint Catharine having added five new degree programs without first seeking federal approval, Department of Education officials decided in 2014 to freeze financial aid to students in these programs.  In...

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