College students face many challenges, not the least of these being how to pay for their educations.
One way state government helps students pay for college is through the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship or KEES program. However, a new report shows that 40 percent of college students don’t keep their KEES money after their freshman year.
Kelli Brannon is a fifth year senior at Western Kentucky University and her freshman year she was fortunate to receive KEES money that helped her pay for tuition, books and other college expenses.
“First year, my grades weren’t the best and I lost the KEES,” Brannon said.
Like many college students across the state, by sophomore year Brannon was no longer receiving that extra money.
“I studied, went to class, I just struggled on tests and I just didn’t feel I was prepared when I went into college. High school was so easy and I really didn’t have to study that much and I made good grades,” Brannon said.
Good grades are a necessity to keep KEES money. According to WKU financial aid coordinator, Lois Tidwell, out of the 6,500 w
Western students that received KEES last year, 1,300 failed to qualify for a second year.
If a student loses their KEES eligibility for a year, it goes by what their overall GPA is at the end of each Spring semester, so if their GPA is below 2.5 at the end of Spring, they have to wait till the next academic year to get it back.
Brannon has since changed majors from nursing to business management, but said it’s still been a struggle to raise her grades.
“It’s been hard for me to get my grades back up even though I’m doing better in my classes. I’m taking business classes,” Brannon said.
Tidwell said KEES is an invaluable resource.
“I think it’s very important for a lot of students because a lot of students that get KEES may not get financial aid and so this is based on grades made in high school and college and they can always count on that money based on whatever financial situation they’re in.
“I’ve done loans. I have gotten a couple of grants from FAFSA, but I have taken out loans also, but I haven’t gotten as much as I did,” Brannon said.
She said she thinks a lot of students don’t realize how different college will be from high school and that’s one reason it’s hard for them to continue to qualify for scholarship money.
“I didn’t do a whole lot. I always got good grades and I didn’t study in college a whole lot. I thought it would be the same but it wasn’t,” Brannon said.
Not the same for a lot of students who in turn are left digging deeper in their pockets to pay for their college educations.
Tidwell said students who no longer qualify for KEES are encouraged to fill out a financial aid application to make up the difference for what they lose.
KEES money is allocated on an academic year system, meaning a student can’t lose it in the middle of a semester. If their grades come up after the next year, the student automatically becomes eligible again.