State grant may be underfunded

Joe Lord

There are millions of dollars available in financial aid across Kentucky for college prospects, but there might not be enough for those who need it most.

More than 50,000 students in financial need were denied grants to cover tuition costs this year. The trend is leaving Kentucky’s financial aid group saying it needs more money from the state.

The College Access Program and Kentucky Tuition Grant might be underfunded by as much as $72 million, said Joe McCormick, executive director of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority.

A report was issued last month by KHEAA about Kentucky’s scholarship and grant funding status, McCormick said. Since then, KHEAA has contacted the Council on Postsecondary Education, the state legislature and the governor’s office.

Some say the state is doing what it can.

“Short of making college free, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of making it affordable,” said state Sen. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green.

CAP gives grants to students at state colleges with financial difficulties, he said. KTG gives grants to students, such as students at private colleges.

To get CAP money, students must fill out a FAFSA form, said Marilyn Clark, director of student financial aid. CAP students can usually also get federal Pell Grants, using both to pay for tuition and housing.

Without it, those students would have to take out greater loans, she said.

McCormick said students who can’t afford college without the grants opt for another route.

“By definition, needy students could not attend school without this money,” McCormick said. “So these are kids that will not be allowed to exercise this option to go to school, because it is not funded.”

That means college enrollment and Kentucky’s economy suffer, McCormick said.

“Bottom line, you cannot make a decent living without a college education,” he said.

Western has about 3,000 CAP students, Clark said. CAP students who are full-time get $1,260.

There are 34,620 students sharing $36 million statewide this year, McCormick said. The grants are given to eligible students based on when they applied.

McCormick said meeting the deadline does not mean eligible students will get a grant.

“Nobody is guaranteed anything,” he said.

Typically, CAP and KTG are from single parent homes, are first generation college students and come from the poorer counties in Kentucky, McCormick said. Their families usually make less than $30,000 a year.

Bill Utley, counselor at Warren East High School, estimates 50 percent of students at his school get CAP grants. It represents money for books, among other things.

“Any type of aid, where it’s federal or state, is going to help a student looking to go to college,” he said.

There are also options for grants.

Those students can usually take out loans with low interest rates, Utley said. Campus jobs are also available to students.

“I personally think that if a student wants to go to college bad enough then the money is there,” he said.

State grant programs are mostly funded through the Kentucky Lottery, Guthrie said. The legislature is fully funding other programs, such as the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship.

He also took issue with KTG.

“I don’t think it’s the obligation of the tax payers to ensure a private education,” Guthrie said.

Regardless, McCormick suggested that the state could do more for CAP and KTG.

“It’s absolutely absurd that we only tax cigarettes 3 cents a pack,” he said. “I just hope, in a near term, the legislature will address the tax structure of the state in a meaningful way so they can simply generate the funds to do the things that need to be done for this state.”

Reach Joseph Lord at [email protected]