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House passes scholarship bill for coal counties

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - The House has passed a bill that would make college students from the coalfields eligible for special scholarships.

The Thursday vote was unanimous. The bill will now proceed to the Senate for consideration.

Democratic state Rep. Leslie Combs of Pikeville, the bill's sponsor, said the scholarships of up to $6,600 a year would be available only to college juniors and seniors in 34 counties.

The initiative is a compromise that came from a failed push last year to create a four-year public university in the Appalachian coalfields. Lawmakers saw that proposal, intended to boost the number of college graduates in the coalfields, as too expensive considering Kentucky's tight state budget.

The money for the scholarships will come from a tax on mined coal.

House Bill 210, introduced by State Representative Leslie Combs and passed out of the Kentucky House of Representatives Thursday, has the potential to change the future of Eastern Kentucky.

The program, if passed by the Kentucky State Senate and signed by the Governor, will pay 40% of the student’s net cost of tuition after subtracting all state and federal aid for the student who is a junior or senior attending a four-year college or university in the coal regions of Kentucky. The funds will come from the Kentucky Coal Severance Tax paid by Kentucky coal companies.

The program is called the Kentucky Coal County College Completion Scholarship and is being referred to as the K4C$ program. Students living in any of the 34 coal-producing counties of the Commonwealth are eligible.

Colleges and universities in Eastern Kentucky where the student can receive this scholarship include the University of Pikeville, Alice Lloyd College, Union College, The University of the Cumberlands, the University of Pikeville’s extension campuses at Paintsville, Whitesburg, Cumberland and Middlesboro, Morehead State University’s extension campus at Prestonsburg, Eastern Kentucky University’s extension campuses at Manchester and Corbin and the University Center of the Mountains in Hazard where several colleges and universities offer the junior and senior years of bachelor’s degree programs.

The only requirements are that the student has 60 credit hours which will lead to a bachelor’s degree at the institution the student is attending and that they live in a coal-producing county. The student will be eligible for the scholarship for the equivalent of five semesters. The student must be taking at least six credit hours, which would equal one half of a semester.

The program is designed to encourage more of the students from this region to earn a bachelor’s
degree which can, on average, increase their earning power by $1,000,000 over a lifetime when compared to the average earnings of a person with only a high school diploma. The workplace has changed and our students must pursue the education which prepares them for work in a world with a knowledge-based economy. About 12% of our high school graduates earn a bachelor’s degree while about 22% of the graduates in the rest of the state earn a bachelor’s degree. In the United States, about 30% of high school graduates earn a bachelor’s degree.

Our students go to college at about the same rate as students in the rest of the state but more of them go to the Kentucky Community and Technical colleges which are the state colleges serving this region. This program will give those students an avenue to get the first two years of college at the less expensive community colleges and finish the four-year bachelor’s degree program at one of the participating colleges. The student can also earn the degree online from one of the participating colleges.

The entire region will benefit from this program and I commend Representative Combs for pursuing this initiative with great skill and tenacity.

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