Appalachian students would have a fresh source of money to pay for college under a measure approved by the House Education Committee on Tuesday.
The proposal, which now goes to the full House for consideration, would provide grants of up to $6,000 a year to students attending a handful of private colleges in the mountain region.
The proposal is a spinoff from an earlier recommendation to turn the private University of Pikeville into a public university to boost educational levels and spur the economy in central Appalachia. Widespread opposition led to that idea being withdrawn.
The scholarship program could help achieve the same goal, said state Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, sponsor of both proposals.
The funding source for the “Kentucky Appalachian College Completion Grants” would be coal severance tax revenue that’s earmarked for multi-county economic development projects in the region. Former Gov. Paul Patton, now president of the University of Pikeville, said increasing educational levels would make the impoverished central Appalachian region more appealing to businesses looking to build or relocate.
“I think this is true economic development,” said state Rep. Carl Rollins II, chairman of the House Education Committee. “This is probably the best economic development you could do in the region.”
Patton said he still believes a private university is needed in eastern Kentucky. But he said the proposal for a scholarship program for mountain students will be beneficial in increasing the number of people in the state’s Appalachian region with bachelor’s degrees.
The scholarships would be available to students who already have at least 60 college credits from a community college and then transfer to the University of Pikeville, Alice Lloyd College, Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, the University of the Cumberlands or Union College. All are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
The original proposal would have used some $13 million a year from the coal tax to turn the private University of Pikeville into a public school. It’s been discarded for now because Patton was unable to garner enough support to get it through the Legislature. Gov. Steve Beshear has hired a consulting firm to review the proposal for a new public university and to report the findings by March 15.
Some critics had complained that the economic recession has pinched the state’s existing universities and that Kentucky can little afford a ninth four- year campus. Proponents argued that using funding from a pool of cash available only for coalfield projects would not infringe on the existing universities.
Morehead State University President Wayne Andrews, who opposed the University of Pikeville proposal, had suggested a scholarship program during testimony to the House Education Committee last month.