As local high school students walk across the graduation stage, many will continue their educational journey thanks to a true community-centered partnership.
The first class comprised of students from the McCracken and Paducah school districts, Community Christian Academy, St. Mary School System and in-home school programs, enrolled in the Community Scholarship Program as freshmen. The Paducah City Commission and McCracken County Fiscal Court have each provided $125,000 annually since 2011 toward the project. Additional donors include the Rotary Club of Paducah, the Paducah Junior College (PJC) Inc. and other businesses and individuals, according to Lisa Stephenson, WKCTC dual credit director.
"The goal is to increase the post-secondary training options to students who wouldn't normally be thinking about college," she said. "We are hopeful that it will increase graduation rates and decrease dropout rates."
The scholarship represents gap funding, meaning the funds pay the balance after other state, federal and private grants received by the student are deducted. Funding is for two years of tuition, five consecutive semesters or 60 credit hours at West Kentucky Community & Technical College. Students and families have to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and all WKCTC scholarship applications.
She said the long-term goals of the project are to decrease the percentage of high school graduates who don't continue to college, which was nearly 30 percent in fall 2010. The target number for 2014 is 23.6 percent with 556 students enrolled in the program. The numbers continue to increase with 624 students participating in 2015 and 729 in 2016.
WKCTC President Barbara Veazey said the funding is meant to reach a broad swath of potential students who believed all post secondary education options were unreachable because of cost.
"For parents and students to have two years of college guaranteed sends a powerful message to those who are worried about their financial situation," Veazey said. "This isn't a recruiting tool for WKCTC. It's recruitment to get students into school."
She said the crux of the program is its early introduction to students, then working with school counselors throughout their four-year high school career. College preparations include teaching study and time management skills and tailoring a high school curriculum, so developmental classes are completed if possible before the student starts at WKCTC.
"We want them to make the most of college while they are here," she said. "It's an example of many groups working together to make good things happen for the community."
Chad Chancellor, president of Paducah Economic Development, called the community scholarship program, "the best recruiting tool for new companies who are considering moving into the area." He said the program symbolizes a commitment to having an educated and specialized local workforce.
School officials emphasize that the first class will serve as a baseline to see how expectations meet reality, components that work well and those that should be tweaked to ensure ongoing success.
To be eligible, students have to enroll by Oct. 1 of their freshman year, maintain at least a 2.5 grade-point average while completing high school in eight consecutive semesters, keep a 95 percent attendance rate, have no major discipline referrals and enroll at WKCTC the fall following graduation. Students can sign up during their subsequent years but will receive a decreased funding percentage of 25 percent each year.
For more information, contact Stephenson at 270-534-3282.
Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.