Appalachian Scholarship Plan Draws Critics

May 31, 2012

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Some county officials are criticizing Governor Steve Beshear's authorization of more than $4 million from coal tax revenue to provide college scholarships to students from nine Appalachian counties over the next two years.

The scholarships will be available beginning July 1 to college juniors and seniors from Bell, Floyd, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin and Pike counties. The scholarships can be used only at the University of Pikeville and Alice Lloyd College as well as off-campus centers operated in the region by Morehead State University, Lindsey Wilson College and Lincoln Memorial University.

Pikeville University President Paul Patton, who is a former governor, said the school is working to establish extension campuses in each of the counties.

Beshear announced the so-called Kentucky Coal County College Completion Scholarship Program on Tuesday, saying it will help Appalachian students obtain four-year degrees. The proposal stems from an idea that failed during the legislative session

County officials in eastern and western Kentucky told The Courier-Journal that the program should include all coal-producing counties.

"I just think if we are going to be making it available, we ought to be making it available for all the coal counties," Hopkins County Judge-Executive Donald Carroll said.

Rowan County Judge-Executive Jim Nickell said he hopes the governor will "reconsider" his decision.

Supporters of the scholarship program says high school students in the eligible area earn bachelor's degrees at about half the rate of the state average, which slows economic development in those communities.

Beshear stressed that it is a pilot program that will be evaluated after two years. He denied that it was an attempt at pumping money into the University of Pikeville.

"UPIKE has no guarantee of a particular number of their students seeking or obtaining these funds," he said. "This program is designed to support the educational goals of the students, not the bottom lines of the impacted schools."

Some officials are already asking that it be expanded. Knox County Judge-Executive J.M. Hall said Whitley and Knox counties have sent a proposal that would put more eastern Kentucky counties in line for scholarships.

"If it is going to be coal-severance money used, it should be used not only for the nine, but for all 25 coal counties," he said. "We just wish that Paul Patton and the University of Pikeville would have asked our counties and our schools to have been involved in it as well."