How One Kentucky Scholarship Program Is Easing Student Loan Stress

mbg Contributor By Jennifer Tzeses
mbg Contributor
Jennifer Tzeses is a freelance writer who covers home, beauty, lifestyle, travel, and wellness. She received her Masters degree in journalism from New York University and has appeared as an on-air expert for WCBS and WNBC. Her work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, Condé Nast Traveler, Wired, Saveur, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, ELLE, Barron's, and more. She currently resides in New York.
How One Kentucky Scholarship Program is Easing Student Loan Stress

If your student loans are still weighing on you years after graduating from college, sadly, you have plenty of company. The latest stats* show there are roughly 45 million borrowers in the U.S. who collectively owe a staggering $1.7 trillion in student loan debt. What's more, student loan debt now ranks as the second-highest consumer debt category (behind mortgage debt), beating out credit card debt and car loans. And it's no wonder: Those borrowing between $20,000 and $40,000 can expect to be paying back those loans for an average of 20 years, reports the Department of Education.

Grappling with that kind of long-term money stress can have an impact on your well-being. However, one company is paying close attention—and helping to eliminate some of that financial burden. Thanks to the Kentucky Lottery's dedication to education, more than 82,000 students in Kentucky have seen their tuition reduced. For every dollar spent on a lottery ticket, 23 cents goes to the Commonwealth of Kentucky to fund grants and scholarships that help reduce the tremendous weight of college debt. High school students are encouraged to keep their grades up to qualify for the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES), to graduate college on a more solid financial footing. 

To date, the Kentucky Lottery has raised $3.8 billion for Kentucky Students through KEES, as well as six other educational programs awarded on a need basis across the state. Nearly all the money awarded (98%) comes from the sale of Kentucky Lottery tickets. 

An educational incentive.

Set up in 1998 using Kentucky Lottery proceeds, KEES funds merit-based scholarships and grants for Kentucky students to attend Kentucky state colleges by encouraging them to challenge themselves. The program enables students to earn monetary amounts for the grades they earn in high school. Those who achieve at least a 2.5 GPA each year of attendance at a certified Kentucky high school are eligible to receive money (and keep receiving it, as long as they maintain their grades). Money is also awarded for certain test scores and college credit classes. And there's even more incentive for students to do better in school: Scholarship amounts increase per GPA point. 

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Breaking barriers and alleviating burdens.

For Black students like Demiche Sewell, now an elementary school teacher, the KEES scholarship can be life-changing. "Having to worry about finances is definitely a barrier for young African American males looking to get into college," he says. "Having the KEES scholarship helped remove some of those worries and put me in the position to help people and help the community."  

Easing the financial pressure many students face helps them focus on their studies, without the distraction of stressing about how they'll afford tuition. "I heard about the KEES scholarship when I was in middle school, and it set the stage for what was at stake in high school," says Caleb Kilburn, master distiller, Peerless Distilling Company. "KEES provided a lot of financial flexibility, so I didn't necessarily have to worry the way that, unfortunately, a lot of students have to. The scholarship opportunities the state provides are instrumental in bettering this community," he says. 

Paying it forward is the best way to give back: Any resident in the state of Kentucky can help support debt-free education simply by buying a Kentucky Lottery ticket. It's a win-win all around. 

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