KEES plan works, help for low-income urgent

Last updated: March 12. 2014 11:08AM - 817 Views
By Carl Rollins KHEAA

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While I agree with the main argument, I take exception to parts of the Feb. 28 editorial concerning Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget proposal for financial aid.

The top budget priority for the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority during the next biennial budget is to receive the full proceeds (minus the $3 million for literacy) from the lottery to use for the three primary state financial aid programs.

This is what is supposed to happen by statute, and all of the proceeds between 1998 and 2008 were provided as required. The proposed $76 million cut to the need-based student aid programs over the next two years would fund grants for over 20,000 students per year. All of these deserving students have financial need, and many may not be able to attend college without these grants.

Where I take exception to the editorial is the attack on the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) program. While it is true that approximately 20 percent of the funds go to students from affluent families, roughly 45 percent goes to students from low-income families who also qualify for Pell grants.

The remaining 35 percent of students are from middle-class families, and the KEES money may be the only financial aid available to them.

The KEES program had three primary purposes at its inception. It was meant to encourage students to get better grades in high school, to attend college in Kentucky, and to maintain good grades when they go to college. KEES works and works well. The number of Kentucky high school graduates transitioning to college increased 43.7 percent between 1998 (prior to KEES) and last year — and this at a time public postsecondary tuition increased more than 200 percent.

KEES is well known to students and families, it is easy to understand, and students who enroll at a Kentucky college or university do not need to complete any form in order to receive the funding. The simplicity of the program is one of the reasons it is necessary each year to challenge efforts to use KEES to do other things like pay for dual enrollment, allow students to take their award to out-of-state colleges, or use their award for graduate school or summer school classes.

The Herald-Leader appears to believe there should have been some need-based component to KEES from the beginning. This would have been a mistake. The KEES program complements the need-based programs that were in existence well before KEES was passed into law.

In fact, when looking at all of the grant and scholarship programs, it is necessary to understand how they work in conjunction with federal aid and with institutional aid. Kentucky’s total package of student financial aid programs is comprehensive and adequate as long as the necessary funding is provided.

I know our legislators and governor have to make difficult choices with the limited resources available, but the future of our commonwealth depends on educating all of our citizens to the highest level possible.

Cutting our need-based scholarships and possibly delaying the opportunity for over 40,000 low-income students over the next biennium to continue their education will seriously damage our future.

Carl Rollins is CEO/executive director of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority.

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