A proposed amendment to Senate Bill 231, a bill focused on the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship, would make changes to the state’s Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) that would result in community college being less affordable for low-income Kentuckians.
The amendment would change KEES so that it could only be applied to tuition, fees and books — and only after Pell and the state’s need-based scholarships (CAP and/or KTG) are applied to a student’s higher education bill. This change would make college substantially less affordable for the low-income students served by KEES, which is currently designed to help pay for the total cost of attending college including food, housing, transportation and other costs. The amendment to SB 231 would end this and result in some low-income students not being able to use their earned KEES scholarships at all.
Food and housing are college costs, which is why they are factored into the cost of attendance estimates published for colleges and universities. Certainly students would have to pay for food and housing if they were not attending school — but being successful in college requires that students work fewer hours than they would otherwise. So the loss of these work hours is a college cost. And many low-income students need to contribute financially to the household while attending; this was a finding in higher education scholar Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab’s 2016 book on Pell recipients Paying the Price.
Research shows many community college students are food and housing insecure, which creates major barriers to success in school. Food insecurity is strongly linked to lower graduation rates. And foster youth and students of color are at substantially increased risk, which should be a concern in our state given the growing number of kids in foster care and Kentucky’s lack of progress in addressing higher education achievement gaps.
As noted by Dr. Goldrick-Rab in a recent New York Times op-ed, “For decades, many students survived on little to afford college. But over time, the situation worsened to the point where now, hunger and homelessness routinely undermine students’ very ability to learn.”
Pell can help cover some college costs, but the amendment to SB 231 would prevent low-income community college students with remaining KEES money from being able to use it to cover additional housing costs and other expenses. The maximum Pell amount, for instance, would cover tuition, fees and books at a Kentucky community college but would only cover about half of the estimated cost of attendance which includes housing, transportation and other expenses. And cost of attendance estimates are typically low compared to actual costs.
It is also important to note that many of these low-income college students don’t have access to CAP, the state’s main need-based financial aid program, due to a lack of state funds. A contributing factor for the shortage of CAP scholarships is that KEES is fully funded each year but the need-based lottery scholarships are not.
While the amendment would enable such community college students to later use their KEES money when attending a four-year university, without adequate financial support many won’t be able to make it that far — especially before their KEES scholarship expires five years after high school graduation. Cost is a primary reason students don’t complete their degrees at a community college, and graduation rates for low-income students are already particularly low — just 11 percent of low-income community college students in Kentucky graduate within 3 years.
The amendment to SB 231 reduces the likelihood of low-income KEES recipients successfully completing a community college degree or credential.