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Education initiative reviewed

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It has been a little more than 15 years since the General Assembly revamped Kentucky’s postsecondary system and set a series of far-reaching goals to reach by the year 2020.

If that seemed a long time down the road in 1997, it doesn’t seem too far now. The good news is that, in many ways, we’re well within reach of what we had hoped to achieve. We got the latest update last month, when the Council on Postsecondary Education presented a comprehensive snapshot of our progress in recent years.

In some areas, we’re doing quite well. The number of adults getting their GED jumped 10 percent from 2010 to 2011, for example, and we’re having a lot of success in the number of students getting two-year associate degrees as well as master’s degrees. The use of online courses is growing at a healthy clip too.

We are also seeing positive gains in the number of students transferring from the Kentucky Community and Technical College System to four-year colleges, and there has also been a sizeable jump in the number of degrees awarded in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math and health, all of which are critical for our economy.

As for the challenges, we have to do more to get graduating high school seniors ready for college; increase the number of doctoral students in research; secure more outside money for research and development; and help more students get the financial assistance they need to continue their education. We’re also seeing academic gaps widen between lower-income and moderate-to-high income students, which may have roots in the economy’s downturn in recent years.

One of the biggest boosts to postsecondary reform came just a few years after it was enacted, and there are strong signs that this move - the General Assembly’s decision to use the state’s lottery proceeds to help students attend college - has paid off.

Since 1999, when this initiative first began, $1.74 billion has been given to the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, known as KEES; and the College Access Program and the Kentucky Tuition Grants Program, both of which provide need-based financial assistance for those attending our public and private colleges and universities.

Recently, the legislature’s Office of Education Accountability took a closer look at KEES, which high school students earn with good grades and then use to help pay for college. It found that nearly 90 percent of high school students earn at least some money, and that the average award for qualified students is about $1,200 annually. On the downside, about 40 percent lose their KEES money in their first year of college by not maintaining the needed GPA, though some get part of the money back when their grades improve.

The OEA report indicates that KEES has played a major role in getting more students to attend college. There was a slow but steady climb in enrollment between 1970 and 2000, but with KEES’ help, the rate has jumped considerably since then. That trend applies as well to the number of bachelors, associate and advanced degrees earned.

As the economy continues to improve, the hope is that the numbers of those attending college - and getting a degree - will pick up in those areas where they have fallen behind. It’s a sizeable challenge, but there is every reason to believe that the goals set in 1997 are still within reach.

Should you have any thoughts or questions about this or any aspect of state government, please let me know. My address is Room 367, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.
 
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 367, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 – TTY (800) 896-0305.