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Scholarship Program in Ky. Coal Counties Could Be Expanding

A scholarship program to improve the "abysmal" education levels in some rural Kentucky coal counties could be expanding in the future.

The Kentucky Coal County College Completion Scholarship Program was launched July 1 for college juniors, seniors, and nontraditional students in nine counties. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear gave the go-ahead last year to spend $4.3 million over two years on the pilot program.

The scholarship program was started after the president of the University of Pikeville advocated changing the private institution to a public college to improve the region's low college attainment rate. Only 18 percent of southeastern Kentucky residents have a two-year college degree or higher, compared to the state rate of 29.8 percent, according to a story from The Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky.

Across the country, rural areas lag the rest of the country in college-enrollment rates, with only 27 percent of rural students going to a postsecondary institution, compared with 34 percent nationally.

Critics are concerned that adding a college to the state system would cause others to lose funds, and the compromise bill was creating a scholarship program. That bill failed, so Beshear appropriated the funding for it out of coal-severance funds.

Coal-severance money comes from a state tax on the extraction of natural resources such as coal and other minerals.

Now, one Pikeville legislator wants to expand the program to 34 coal-producing counties and make it permanent, according to another story in The Lexington Herald-Leader. The goal is to improve college-going rates, and it would be funded with coal-severance tax dollars from multiple counties.

It's too early to say whether this has a shot of passing, but we'll keep tabs on it and see where it goes.

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