KEES program needs revision to include foreign Kentucky residents

Most of you have heard of the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, commonly known as KEES. Many of you are its beneficiaries, and deservingly so, for you worked hard for this reward while in high school. I too, worked hard in high school, but as a six-year legal resident of Kentucky, I didn’t receive KEES in return.

Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, the department that administers KEES, offers a number of scholarships and grants for its residents. To qualify for these scholarships and grants, however, one must be a U.S. citizen, national or permanent resident. This requirement baffles me.

KHEAA and its funding are intended for the greater good of the state, so it is only reasonable that its priority is to make sure Kentucky residents receive the benefits. But why make the distinction between those who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents and those who aren’t? Shouldn’t KHEAA serve all Kentucky residents?

The Kentucky Legislature defines the term “resident” as a “person who has established Kentucky as their place of domicile” on its Web site (www.lrc.ky.gov). By definition, I have been a legal Kentucky resident since 2001 even though I am not a U.S. citizen.

While my legal status is not common, I am not alone. According to UK Institutional Research data, there were 185 nonresident aliens – meaning those without U.S. citizenship or permanent residency – enrolled as undergraduates at UK in 2006.

Granted, some of these students came to the United States for college only, but others, just like me, attended high school in the state and have been Kentucky residents for years.

There is no justification for this discrimination against students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

If paying taxes give citizens the entitlement to these educational benefits, then aliens have all the more reason to receive equal treatment. Aliens are subjected to the same taxes as citizens are: income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, you name it.

This is not to mention that KHEAA is largely supported by the Kentucky Lottery, according to its Web site. Last time I checked, you don’t need to be a U.S. citizen to buy lottery tickets in the state.

This country’s forefathers once championed the slogan, “No taxation without representation,” and now I say, “No taxation without equal educational benefits.”

Besides paying the same taxes, aliens contribute to the state at their jobs and in research. According to UK Institutional Research data, out of 2,251 doctorate students enrolled at UK in 2006, 676 were nonresident aliens.

For the common good of the state and in the name of equality, KHEAA should drop its unjustified restriction against Kentucky residents who are not citizens or permanent residents. This would help all students who deserve and need financial aid actually receive it, and their educational success can benefit the state in return.

On the other hand, UK should be applauded for its open-mindedness on this matter. UK’s policy on residency clearly states that “a person holding a nonimmigrant visa … shall establish domicile and residency the same as another person.” UK’s academic scholarships are available to all students, citizen or not, with or without permanent residence.

I was fortunate to receive the Singletary Scholarship from UK, so I haven’t had to worry about financing my college education. But for the other nonresident aliens who need financial help to fund their education, being rejected by KHEAA is a huge setback. Without the scholarships or grants from the state, some of these students may not be able to afford college.

For those of you who receive KEES, think about the less fortunate students who deserve the same reward but are unjustifiably denied the next time you deposit your residual check.

Linsen Li is a history and journalism junior. E-mail [email protected]