FRANKFORT — Tuition for thousands of Kentucky community college students could be covered under a proposed scholarship bill that passed a House committee on Tuesday.
The “Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program” proposed in House Bill 626 would cover Kentucky Community and Technical College (KCTCS) tuition not covered by federal and state grants or scholarships for Kentucky high school graduates who have applied for federal student aid, enroll in at least 12 credit hours a semester, and maintain a cumulative 2.0 grade point average, said bill sponsor and House Speaker Greg Stumbo.
Stumbo called the proposal “a good investment” that would close the tuition gap for students whose current financial aid falls short of what they need to go to college.
“Can we say that it’s not a good investment? I don’t think anybody can argue that it’s not a good investment. And it would apply to every community college all across Kentucky,” he said.
Students would have to enroll in KCTCS academic term immediately following their high school graduation or before their 19th birthday (for those obtaining a GED) to be eligible for a Work Ready Kentucky scholarship, with the first scholarships available for the fall 2016 term, Stumbo said. Scholarships would be available to a students for up to six semesters or until they earn an associate’s degree, whichever comes first.
The program would cost the state $13 million in the first year and $19.9 million in the second year of the next two-year budget cycle, said Stumbo.
“There will be no new debt created as a result of this,” he said.
The Work Ready Kentucky scholarship idea is modeled after the “Tennessee Promise” scholarship program available to community college students in Tennessee. Three states have similar scholarship programs with 11 more states (including Kentucky) considering legislation to establish one this year, said KCTCS President Dr. Jay Box.
Box said the program would reduce out-of-pocket costs for around 3,200 students, namely those who are not receiving a full federal Pell Grant. He said the proposed scholarship would be an incentive for students to attend classes full time, adding that around 60 percent of KCTCS students are now part-time.
“What we expect is really meeting the needs of the workforce in that we are getting students through the pipeline quicker because it is in incentive for them to take a full load, to be a full-time student,” said Box.
Among the lawmakers voting against the bill in committee was Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, who said equitable funding of Kentucky’s community colleges should be addressed. Dossett said community colleges in some regions currently receive more funding than those in other regions.
“I do appreciate what you brought forward. I think it’s something we in the future could look at, but at this time I would like to see us look at equity in funding for our community colleges,” he said.
Among those voting for the bill in committee was Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville. Montell said he believes the legislation fits with work now underway in the Executive Branch.
“I think investment in workforce development is long overdue and I think this will probably complement the work that (the Bevin administration) is doing,” he said.
HB 626 now goes to the full House for consideration.