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Rotary Club pledges more funds for scholarships

BY KATHLEEN FOXkfox@paducahsun.com

The Rotary Club of Paducah has doubled down on its commitment to increasing the college attendance rate for area high school seniors through a community-based program.

Steve Bright, chairman of the Rotary Education Assistance Program (REAP) Board, announced that the group will commit an additional $100,000 to the Community Scholarship Program. The Rotary Club will give $20,000 per year for the next five years beginning July 1. The funding adds to the original REAP gift of $100,00 that has been fulfilled, he said.

Bright and Rotary Club President Chris McNeill made a surprise presentation to West Kentucky Community & Technical College President Barbara Veazey during the weekly Rotary Club luncheon Wednesday at the Carson Center.

"We are happy that individuals, companies, the Rotary Club, REAP and WKCTC can partner together to provide two years of college education for free to people in our county," McNeill said.

The public-private partnership includes the Paducah City Commission and McCracken Fiscal Court, which has each provided $125,000 annually since 2011, the Rotary Club of Paducah, Paducah Junior College Inc., and other business and individual donors.

"Thank you for this next phase," Veazey said. "Once you step out like this there's no turning back. We really stepped out with this program and it's making a difference."

She said the program goals revolve around increasing the graduation rate and the number of high school students going to college by attracting students early to specific programs and removing the primary barrier of cost.

The long-term goals of the project are to decrease the percentage of high school graduates who don't continue to college by 20 percent, at nearly 30 percent in fall 2010. The school will receive the first round of data this fall including enrollment from all national colleges and universities from the National Student Clearinghouse. Other evaluated metrics will be enrollment and retention at WKCTC and graduation rates on the high school level, according to Veazey.

"It's about college awareness and keeping the idea of college in front of students," she said.

Lisa Stephenson, WKCTC dual-credit director, said the percentage of students enrolled in the program continues to increase from 71 percent this year to 81 percent for the class of 2017, including nearly 100 percent participation at Paducah Tilghman High School.

"One thing we continue to stress to the students in McCracken County is that they are special, because the leaders have come together to ensure that they won't have to worry about the cost of tuition for two years," Stephenson said.

The graduating senior class in schools in McCracken County was the first to enroll in the program. Students have to maintain at least a 2.5 GPA, a 95 percent attendance record and avoid any major disciplinary problems throughout high school. All enrolled seniors take a General Education 100 class to prepare for college life, participate in summer programs and receive help filling out financial aid paperwork, including the FASFA.

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 WKCTC.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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