Published on 2013/04/23

Go Higher Grant Looks to Increase Access for Kentucky's Adult Students

Go Higher Grant Looks to Increase Access for Kentucky's Adult Students
As more adults are looking to return to higher education, the state of Kentucky has developed a grant program to entice and support this group of non-traditional learners.

The following interview is with Becky Gilpatrick, director of student aid services at the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority. The state of Kentucky recently launched the Go Higher Grant, aimed at providing financial aid to part-time adult students. In this interview, Gilpatrick discusses the Go Higher Grant in a little more detail, talks about the experience of establishing the grant in some more detail, explains its goals and successes since its launch and shares some advice on how to develop similar programs

1. What is the Go Higher Grant that Kentucky has put together?

… The Go Higher Grant is a need-based program. It’s available to adult students; we drew the line at age 24 or older.

The grant provides up to a $1,000 award that’s good for one academic year and, of course, that’s for enrollment at a participating Kentucky college or university. We geared this award to go to students that were enrolled less than half time, so the focus really is for us to cover tuition, and there’s a small book allowance that we work into the award itself.

2. You mentioned that it was participating Kentucky colleges and universities. Does this include every state college and university or are there private institutions involved, or are there some public institutions that are not involved?

… All of our Kentucky colleges and universities participate in the program. We may not be dispersing funds to all of them; it just depends on their adult populations. We basically narrowed the eligibility for our Go Higher Grant programfrom our larger state grant program, college access program — and everyone participates in that.

3. How did discussions related to the creation of the Go Higher Grant come about?

… There was an effort to increase Kentucky’s ranking and degree completion that began about a decade ago. … It became apparent to us through our policy discussions that, to double our number of degree holders, we really needed to engage both the traditional and the non-traditional student populations. …

The grant program actually began with a legislative proposal in 2006. And the idea behind it, at that time, was that if we could provide enough funding to allow students to take one or maybe two college courses at little or no cost to them, that they would go ahead and continue their education. We were basically using the Go Higher Grant as seed money to entice adults into the college pool.

3. What were the biggest roadblocks that had to be overcome in the development of the grant?

I have to say funding.

Funding is always the largest roadblock for any student aid program. We’re very fortunate in Kentucky and … we have this fantastic lottery program that helps us fund our primary need-based grants and our merit-based scholarship, the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship.

But beyond those two really large programs, the money has to come out of the state’s general fund. This is a smaller program that hits that general fund. In tough economic times, funding is always your issue.

4. Do you have any lessons learned to share with anyone who might be looking to develop a similar program in their state?

Absolutely! I would say the most important thing you can do is to conduct research. Identify the needs of your adult population, the needs of your state’s workforce.

We’ve had a few surprises along the way. If you’ll recall, this grant is designed for part-time students. And what we have found is an increasing number of our adult students are enrolled full-time, especially since the economic downturn led so many students to return back to school for additional education and training. So it goes against the intent to serve part-time students.…

We always evaluate our programs to see if they are benefiting both the students and the state. This grant program is just in its fifth year, so as we move forward with this, we’re already this early in the game saying, “Okay, maybe we need to step back, look at a few things. Maybe we need to tweak this [program] and target it to more specific adult populations or populations within the workforce where we have needs.”

5. Is there anything you’d like to add about the creation of the Go Higher Grant or any advice you might have to give to those looking to put similar programs together?

… Keep in mind that when you’re dealing with working adults, it’s a much different population than when you’re working with traditional students. The needs of adults are much different. They like a lot of hand holding; they may need additional counseling just to get into college. There are a lot of additional hurdles that really may not relate to this grant program as much as it is to just get adult students back in school. They are also working adults, so their financial needs are a little bit different.

Kentucky is a very poor state when it comes to financial need, but we still provide an allowance within this grant. … Our needs threshold for the grant program goes to 150 percent of the Pell Grant EFC (Expected Family Contribution).… We draw the line much higher to take into consideration that these are working adults and to give them that affordability.

The other thing that I haven’t mentioned is that many adults decide to go to college much later in the year than traditional students. So, they miss a lot of those early FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application filings that take up and claim the larger [state College Access] grant program monies so early in the year. … We’ve really designed [the Go Higher Grant] to help bridge those students — especially those first-year adult students who are just getting their foot in the door, beginning to learn the processes. This gives them … some financial aid until they can figure out exactly when they are supposed to be filing their forms and applying for everything.

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Readers Comments

Chelsea Bellows 2013/04/23 at 9:36 am

Very interesting interview on the Go Higher grant. Since the program is only in its fifth year, it’s likely still too early to see the long-term impacts on Kentucky. But it sounds like a very practical tool to attract adult students and I hope it’s successful!

John G. Karmen 2013/04/23 at 2:32 pm

Ms. Gilpatrick says the rationale to provide seed money for adult students to enter/re-enter higher education was that it might encourage some to continue their education after the funding was used up. I’m interested to know if that has indeed been the case. Since the program’s launch, has there been a significant increase in the number of adult students — not just in the one-off courses paid for by Go Higher, but in certificate or degree programs? I find it quite interesting that Ms. Gilpatrick was silent on this. It doesn’t take much to entice an individual to enroll in a course. Private, for-profit schools are notoriously good at using giveaways to attract new enrollment. It seems to me the state of Kentucky should be more interested in retaining adult students and moving them through to graduation.

Belinda Chang 2013/04/24 at 10:23 am

I wonder if the Go Higher program has considered private partnerships seeing as state funding is so low. Employers, who stand to benefit the most from an educated workforce, certainly have an incentive to fund higher education, particularly if the funding can be tied to programs relevant to their industry.

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