A scholarship program once hailed as a guarantee of free community college for all new high school graduates in Kentucky has been trimmed back to pay for only specialized work certificate programs.
The Work Ready Scholarship program was proposed by House Democrats in the 2016 legislative session and approved by the General Assembly to pay tuition for college students seeking two-year associate’s degrees after existing state scholarship programs have been used.
However, Gov. Matt Bevin vetoed the bill authorizing the program but left $15.9 million to fund it in the state budget bill.
Last December, Bevin issued an executive order creating his own version of the scholarship program, but it is limited to those seeking certificates in five industries with worker shortages: health care, advanced manufacturing, transportation/logistics, business services/IT, and construction.
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The certificates are industry approved; most will be offered through the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, but some four-year schools also offer certificate degrees.
“We want to get people on the first or second rung of the employment ladders, where there are a lot of open jobs,” said Hal Heiner, secretary of the Education and Workforce Cabinet. “This is for Kentuckians of any age who want to go back to school or get started in a new career.”
Heiner continued: “We’re hurting in Kentucky because these jobs are going open. We wanted to be very targeted, knowing that if people get on those rungs, they’ll likely continue with their education.”
Bevin’s move goes directly against the spirit of the original bill, said House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, who was part of the then-majority House Democratic Caucus.
“It’s a complete about-face on the intent of the legislation,” Adkins said Tuesday. “The legislative intent was for this work ready scholarship money to be the last dollar in for people to acquire an associate or four-year degrees, to help students struggling with tuition increases to help their education. If Secretary Heiner is changing that intent that goes against our legislative intent and it does harm to the program.”
Although Bevin issued his order in December, it only recently became clear that the program would not apply to students seeking two-year degrees.
Bevin’s executive order said the scholarship could be used by those seeking a “diploma,” so most people thought it still covered two-year degrees, Adkins said. However, “diplomas” are considered to be technical certificate degrees by KCTCS, not associate degrees, said KCTCS spokeswoman Terri Giltner.
The Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority will administer the program. In order to qualify, students must have a high school degree or GED, but cannot have an associate’s degree or higher. The scholarship applies to any remaining tuition after federal, state and private scholarships or grants are exhausted.
Once students receive the scholarship, they must maintain a 2.0 GPA, and they will only be eligible for four academic terms. The scholarship ends after the student receives 32 credit hours. Most associate degrees require 60 hours.
Heiner said the scholarship is aimed at getting people matched with jobs as quickly as possible, noting that it is available to students of any age. In the legislation Bevin vetoed, the program was only available to new high school graduates.
There is enough money to help at least 8,000 students, though it’s not yet clear how much demand there will be for the scholarship.
KHEAA has already received more than 700 applications, but 519 of those aren’t eligible under Bevin’s rules.
“I would like to think of this as a baby step,” said Erin Klarer, vice-president of government relations for KHEAA. “If program modifications need to be made, maybe we can do that.”
In 2015-16, KCTCS granted nearly 20,000 certificates in a range of areas, according to the Council on Postsecondary Education. For example, Bluegrass Community and Technical College offers a certificate program in electrical engineering technology that lasts 32 weeks and costs $2,635 in tuition and fees. Books and supplies cost an additional $1,000.
How to apply
To apply for the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program, visit https://www.kheaa.com/website/kheaa/work_ready?main=1. The scholarship is open to Kentuckians who have not earned a two-year associate’s degree, but want to get an industry-recognized certificate.
▪ Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
▪ Be a Kentucky resident
▪ Be a high school or GED graduate
▪ Have not earned an associate’s or higher degree
▪ Be enrolled, or accepted for enrollment, at an eligible postsecondary institution in an approved program of study that leads to an industry recognized certificate in a high-demand workforce sector.
▪ Qualifying areas for the 2017-2018 year are health care, advanced manufacturing, transportation/logistics, business services/IT, and construction
▪ Not be in default on any obligation to KHEAA
▪ Fill out the FAFSA federal financial aid form.
The scholarship amount equals tuition minus federal and state grants and scholarships, up to the maximum allowed amount. The maximum shall not exceed the in-state tuition and fees rate for full-time enrollment at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, which is estimated near $3,900 for the 2017-2018 year.