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More Dollars for Degrees Puts Crunch on Kentuckians

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Monday, November 21, 2011   

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Affording a college education in Kentucky has gotten tougher in the past decade, a new report says, with inadequate need-based financial aid, rising tuition and mounting student debt.

The report was compiled by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy in Berea. The center's director, Jason Bailey, says a decade of scaled-back state support for higher education has families bearing the brunt of rising college costs with tuition hikes. What's more, he adds, financial aid programs have not picked up the slack- making a college diploma out of reach for many Kentuckians.

"With wages stagnating across Kentucky, with federal Pell Grants being cut back, higher education is much harder for people to be able to afford, and the result is rising student debt."

About one-fourth of the state's population - more than 1 million Kentuckians - don't have a college degree, Bailey says. Further numbers-crunching, he says, paints an even dimmer picture of college completion rates.

"Less than half of those that enroll in four-year universities graduate in six years. Less than a third of those that enroll in community colleges graduate in three years. Some of these gaps are growing - between, for example, white students and minority students."

Low-income adult students face an even greater challenge, the center says, contending that the state has placed greater priority on merit-based aid that benefits those with higher incomes. Two-thirds of students who qualify for state-level, need-based financial aid are left in the lurch because of the state's dry coffers, according to the policy brief.

Bailey believes state tax reform is part of the answer.

"We need to be able to adequately support the institutions. We need to put more into need-based financial aid. And, given the budget situation, it's really going to require the General Assembly to address the issues with the tax system."

Even though enrollment at public universities and community colleges grew by 35 percent in the past 10 years, Bailey says, so did the amount of student loan debt - by 238 percent. That debt load, he adds, strains entrepreneurship, home ownership and savings.

The report: "The College Affordability Crunch in Kentucky," is online at kypolicy.org.


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