Pretty soon, going to community college in Tennessee may become absolutely free. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam unveiled the proposal in his annual State of the State address this week.
Haslam is trying to lift Tennessee's ranking as one of the least-educated states. Less than a third of residents have even a two-year degree. But a community college free-for-all has been tried elsewhere, though not sustained, and there's always a nagging question.
"So I know you're wondering," Haslam said. "How do we pay for this?"
A program being used at WKU is providing a better idea of what can be done to prevent students from leaving school before completing their degree.
The MAP-Works system helps identify at-risk students who take a voluntary survey. Students who appear to be struggling receive direct intervention by WKU faculty and staff who direct the student to programs that can help with academic, financial, or health issues.
Lindsey Gilmore, with the WKU enrollment management office, says she assumed money problems would be the top reason why students drop out. But she says MAP-Works shows that’s not the case.
"Generally, what MAP-Works does is let us see about five top issues our students are facing per classification, and lack of financial confidence is always in the top five, but it’s never number one."
Gilmore says MAP-Works shows the biggest stressors for WKU students include homesickness, test anxiety, study habits, and low peer connections.
More than 5,400 WKU students have been contacted or met with in person this academic year about their survey results. Gilmore says the school is working to get more students to take the MAP-Works survey. A little over 27 percent of WKU students completed the survey last fall.
A bill that would allow computer programming courses to count toward foreign language requirements in Kentucky schools has passed out of a Senate committee.
Republican Sen. David Givens of Greensburg sponsored the measure and told the committee it's needed to prepare Kentucky’s students for a modern economy.
“Part of the challenge goes to the fact that less than 2.4 percent of college students graduate with a degree in computer science, and the numbers continue to decline as the job opportunities increase."
Givens also says his bill would help close a knowledge gap for women and minorities, groups he says are under-represented in the fields of computer science.
The leader of Kentucky's Council on Postsecondary Education is joining others in calling for the Governor to renew funding for the state's colleges and universities.
CPE President Bob King and officials from Kentucky's postsecondary institutions have signed a newspaper op-ed pointing out that 70,000 students who qualified for need-based aid last year went without.
King says state campuses have had to take revenue from students who could pay full tuition to help fund aid programs that Pell Grants and state programs can no longer fully support.
"The aid that's being provided by the institutions means that those dollars that they are otherwise receiving in the form of tuition can't be spent to hire more faculty, or to (purchase) more computing equipment or laboratory equipment--all the things that we need to enhance the academic experience for our students," King said during a phone interview.
King's comments come ahead of Governor Beshear's budget address Tuesday evening in Frankfort.
WKU has been awarded a $150,000 grant to support early childhood education.
The funding from the PNC Foundation will be used to produce videos that will expose children to the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering, and math. The videos will be distributed to places such as libraries, housing authorities, and preschools in Kentucky and Tennessee.
"The hardest thing about changing the number of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in Kentucky relates to the fact that unless you stimulate interest early and students are really prepared to be successful when they go to college in those areas, then it's not going to happen," said Dr. Julia Roberts, executive director of the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science at WKU.
Kentucky will need to fill 74,000 STEM jobs by 2018, yet only 12 percent of bachelor’s degrees conferred in the state are in STEM fields.
In his seventh state of the Commonwealth address, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear told lawmakers that he will seek to reinvest in education, while also urging the General Assembly to reform the state's tax code.
The nearly 50-minute speech touched upon a variety of topics, including the state’s implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, gains in auto manufacturing and the implementation of new education standards.
In stressing his latest priority, Beshear said that he would make cuts to other programs in order to reinvest in education. To make up some of the funds, the governor pleaded with lawmakers to act on tax reform this year.
“I realize that tax modernization is a sensitive topic, especially in an election year. But the people elected us to tackle difficult issues. So engage with me. I ask you to engage with me on a core weakness that is keeping the Commonwealth from reaching its potential.”
Beshear offered few details on the kind of changes he wants to see in the tax code.
After the speech, Senate President Robert Stivers said he will need specifics in order to have a discussion on the issue.
Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo is sponsoring legislation that would raise the state's minimum wage. House Bill 1 would raise the rate from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour over three years.
Stumbo says the increase is needed to keep wages in line with inflation, and would help struggling working-class families across the Commonwealth.
“There needs to be something done to help level the playing field for people who work for minimum wage,” said Stumbo. “It needs to be raised, it’s not been raised since 2009, it’s been eroded obviously by inflation and cost-of-living, so, you’re gonna hear us talk about issues that deal with real, live, working Kentucky families, and try to make their lives easier and better.”
With a full time job, $7.25 an hour brings in $15,000 a year. Stumbo says that's not enough, and his raise would give full-time minimum wage workers about $21,000 a year.
“There’s been studies that show that small business owners agree that raising the minimum wage stimulates the economy, it makes for a better workplace.”
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers has indicated he would not support the plan.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear says he wants to pump more money into education and is willing to make budget cuts elsewhere to free up the money.
The governor also says he'll urge lawmakers to consider expanded gambling and a state tax overhaul in the General Assembly session that begins in January. But he won't include any assumed revenue from gambling or tax changes in the budget plan he presents to lawmakers.
Beshear talked to reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday about his priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
The governor listed education as his top priority and said he's determined to put more money into education.
He says the state risks losing its progress in education unless it reinvests money in schools.
Beshear didn't mention any specifics about possible budget cuts but said "everything is on the table."