FRANKFORT, Ky. (Feb. 5, 2014) — Legislation that would help college students from Kentucky’s coal counties complete four-year degrees in their home areas with help from a “Kentucky Coal County College Completion Scholarship” on Tuesday cleared the House Education Committee.
House Bill 2, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, would fund scholarships mostly for students living and attending school in the state’s coal-producing counties in both Eastern and Western Kentucky. The bill would provide five percent of total scholarship funds for students who want to attend an approved program outside of those coal counties, according to the bill.
Scholarships available to eligible students under HB 2 for the 2014-15 academic year would total a maximum of $6,800 per academic year for students attending an independent college or university in the coal counties, $2,300 per year for students of a public extension campus or regional postsecondary center in those counties, or $3,400 per year for those students eligible to attend a program located in Kentucky but outside the coal counties.
The legislation would also create student services grants for Kentucky Community and Technical Colleges located in the coal regions. Grant amounts would total $150,000 per institution per year, according to HB 2.
Stumbo said HB 2 is designed to increase the number of bachelor’s degrees earned in coal regions—especially those coal counties in deep Eastern Kentucky. While the Eastern coalfields graduate as many two-year degree holders as any other region of the state, there is a lag in four-year degree attainment because of “accessibility,” Stumbo said.
“What we’re trying to do is obviously open the door for those who want to get the four-year degree,” he Stumbo.
Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, who said she is familiar with scholarship-to-work arrangements in the medical field, asked if HB 2 contains a provision to obligate those receiving scholarships to pay back some of that money if certain conditions aren’t met. Combs said that idea has been discussed, but since these are general four-year undergraduate degrees “there’s not really a good way right now that we can come up with to do something like that.”
Wuchner offered the suggestion that “there be an understanding of obligation if you don’t complete two years.” She said students would then feel they have an obligation to “at least complete a minimum of two years in the process.”
Funds for the program proposed in HB 2 would be distributed from a “coal county college completion scholarship fund” to be administered by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority. According to HB 2, that fund would include coal severance tax dollars, gifts and/or grants from public or private sources, or federal funds. It would not include state General Fund dollars, the bill says.
HB 2 now goes to the full House for consideration.