Hal Heiner, secretary of the state’s Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, said a new free college tuition program would help people who have exited the labor force get back to work.
Gov. Matt Bevin created the program by executive order last week after vetoing a similar measure during this year’s legislative session.
The scholarship would be the “last dollar in” for students seeking two-year degrees at schools in Kentucky, paying for the rest of tuition and fee expenses not covered by federal financial aid.
To qualify, students have to have a high school diploma, be a resident of Kentucky and seek a degree in one of the state’s “top five high-demand industries,” as determined by the state.
Currently, those industries include health care, advanced manufacturing, transportation/logistics, business services/IT and construction, according to the executive order.
Heiner said the scholarship is geared toward putting people to work in industries that need to fill jobs quickly.
“This new economy has really changed where the great jobs are. You have to be able to typically leverage automation and technology to be successful,” Heiner said. “It’s a broad range, but it’s focused on jobs that you can support yourself and hopefully a family.”
Kentucky’s labor force participation has fluctuated in recent years — losses of late have been blamed on a wave of retiring baby boomers and working-age people giving up on job searches.
However, the state’s labor force increased in November according to initial projections, totaling more than two million people for the first time since May of 2014.
On Thursday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo criticized the new program because it will limit which degrees students can pursue. He pushed for a similar program that passed during this year’s legislative session that was vetoed by the governor.
“Let’s let the students decide what they think is best for their careers while we try to help them meet their goals. It’s really that simple,” Stumbo said in an emailed statement on Thursday.
State officials don’t yet have a list of degrees or subject areas that would qualify for the scholarship.
“We’ll have to flesh that out when we get a little bit closer,” said Erin Klarer, vice president of government relations for Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, which will administer the scholarship.
Scholarship funds are expected to become available July 1, 2017, for enrollment in the 2017-2018 school year.
Under the new program, students would be able to use the scholarship to attend a school in the Kentucky Community and Technical College system, one of Kentucky’s four-year public universities or any other accredited school in the state.
But the scholarship award would max out at the cost of in-state tuition and fees to attend a KCTCS institution full-time.
“I am hopeful that this catches fire across the commonwealth and individuals that may have been out of high school for 10 or 20 years or more say, I’ve always wanted to do that and now here’s an easy way to do it,” Heiner said.