Work Ready Scholarship opens path for incoming students

Emma Collins

Under a new scholarship program, incoming college students will be eligible to receive free tuition while they pursue a two-year degree or certificate, but the program will not be offered until 2017 due to a line item veto from Gov. Matt Bevin.

Students will receive their free tuition through the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the program, which will be administered by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, will allow current Kentucky high school students to receive free tuition if they chose to pursue an associate degree, a certificate or a diploma.


“I think it’s the most exciting program — not because I’m sponsoring the bill, but because it really does give us a leg up on getting our kids work ready for the 21st century,” Stumbo said.

Stumbo referred to the program as a “last-dollar” scholarship, meaning students will only receive the scholarship after they have applied for and received money from FAFSA.

The remaining tuition that is not covered by FAFSA or other scholarships and grants will be covered by the Work Ready Scholarship.

“It’s going to make a huge difference in student debt,” Stumbo said.

On April 28, Bevin vetoed House Bill 626 which defined the regulations of the scholarship and cut the funding in the bill for the 2016-2017 school year. He left $15.9 million intact in order to fund the next academic year for the program. The legislature will have to rewrite the regulations for the scholarship program.

“Developing and implementing a properly functioning Work Ready Scholarship program will take a great deal of time and effort,” Bevin said in his veto message. “Therefore, the most prudent action is to develop the program for implementation in fiscal year 2017-18.”

Originally, students who wanted to receive the four-semester scholarship would graduate from a high school in Kentucky and enroll in a college in Kentucky the semester after they graduated. Kentuckians younger than 19 and with a GED would also have been eligible for the scholarship if they enrolled in a two-year program before they turned 19.

The scholarship was eligible for students seeking an associate’s degree or certificate who chose to attend a school in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, a four-year public college or university or a four-year private college or university.

Those were the only requirements to receive the scholarship; however, beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, applicants were required to have taken a certain number of dual credit courses while in high school.

In the original draft of the bill, recipients were required to maintain a 2.0 GPA and take a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester. After budget negotiations, the required GPA was increased to 2.5, and recipients were required to take a minimum of 15 credit hours per semester.

If students failed to maintain the required GPA or if they do not complete the academic term, they would have been required to repay the scholarship.

Merrall Price, associate dean for University College, said the program was good news for WKU and its students.

“It means that, essentially, the first two years at WKU would be free for eligible students as long as they enroll in an associate degree program on their way to a bachelor’s degree and maintain their eligibility,” Price said.

Stumbo said the idea for the program came from Tennessee’s scholarship program, called Tennessee Promise.

Under the Tennessee Promise, high school students in Tennessee who want to receive an associate degree will be eligible to participate in a scholarship and mentoring program.

The first students who participated in the Tennessee program enrolled in college in August 2015.

Kentucky’s Work Ready Program is similar to the Tennessee Promise; however, unlike Tennessee’s program, applicants are not required to complete a certain number of service hours.

Representative Rocky Adkins said during the legislative session, the general assembly heard from a number of businesses about the shortage of skilled workers in the state.

Adkins said the general assembly has also been concerned about the low percentage of Kentuckians who hold a college degree.

“We really put our heads together with our budget chair and leadership as a whole and tried to look at a unique way that we could use money to attract students to enter into the community and technical college system,” Adkins said.

Adkins also said he hopes the program will serve as a feeder system to encourage more students to continue on to receive a four-year degree.

“When it is passed, I think it’s going to be something that is going to be very helpful to students and our youth in making sure that we continue their education without tremendous debt,” Adkins said.