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Colleges in Kentucky

Why go to College in Kentucky?

Kentucky’s numerous institutions offer programs in the most popular undergraduate and graduate fields. The wide selection of majors and concentrations, matched with reasonable tuition at public universities, makes Kentucky a great state to attend college.


Census.gov currently estimates Kentucky’s population at almost 4.5 million, with almost 10% of the state’s residents located in the two biggest cities, Lexington and Louisville. Much of the state is rural farm land.


Kentucky’s spring and fall climates are mild; summer is hot and humid. In the winter, snow is common, but more so in Kentucky’s northern counties.

Number of Higher Learning Institutions

Kentucky contains 165 institutions of higher learning. Louisville, Kentucky’s most populous city, features the largest number of colleges and universities in the state. The state’s smaller cities feature community colleges and religiously-affiliated schools.

Sporting Events

The state lacks any professional sports teams; college athletics dominate Kentucky. Louisville and the University of Kentucky have successful basketball programs and face each other every year in the Battle of the Bluegrass.


Lexington and Louisville are Kentucky’s most popular cities for nightlife. Both cities contain many unique clubs and bars, like Lexington’s Parlay Social and Louisville’s The Thirsty Pedaler. Many of the state’s rural counties remain ‘dry,’ prohibiting the sale of alcohol.

What Options are Available for Colleges in Kentucky?


The largest colleges in Kentucky provide a traditional experience where the fraternity and sorority systems influence much of the campus culture. The majority of rural colleges and universities reflect the state’s conservative-political and religious values. The ideal student is already a Kentucky resident, someone who can take advantage of in-state tuition. For Kentucky residency, students must have lived in the state for at least 12 months. By becoming a state resident, students receive an almost 50% tuition discount.

Online Programs

Online schools in Kentucky offer academic programs identical to their on-campus counterparts. These programs allow students the opportunity to earn associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral-level degrees online. Distance learning courses may include pre-recorded lectures, discussion board requirements, and timed quizzes.

The ideal student for online colleges in KY is a resident with career or family commitments. Online programs sometimes offer cheaper tuition than on-campus programs, and distance learners don’t have to pay commuting costs, on-campus fees, or meal plan costs.

Hybrid Programs

Hybrid programs require students to complete coursework online and on-campus. A student attending an online school in KY may need to visit campus for a science lab, group project, or test, but the rest of the assignments will be completed online. Hybrid programs are commonly cheaper than on-campus programs and provide an on-campus feel while being more flexible. The amount of coursework that is completed online will vary between programs.

Popular Degree Programs in Kentucky

Kentucky is known for its agriculture and manufacturing industries, but some of the most popular programs in the state are not related to farming or engineering. Below, is an outline of two of the most common programs.

  • Pre-Law and Legal Studies

    Pre-law and legal studies are two similar majors that prepare students for careers in the legal field. Law school is the end goal for many students who earn a bachelor’s in the field. Others pursue careers as paralegals.

  • Elementary Education

    Nearly 400,000 people have moved to Kentucky in the last 15 years, so the state’s need for elementary school teachers has grown. Earning a bachelor’s in elementary education from one of the online schools in KY prepares graduates to work in private and public school settings. The best online schools in Kentucky for elementary education offer state licensure.

Best Online Colleges in Kentucky for 2018

Kentucky features 80 degree-granting colleges and universities, the majority of which offer online programs to in and out-of-state students. In this section you can explore the best online colleges in KY. As you browse, keep in mind your career goals, as some of the best online schools in KY may not offer certain programs or certifications.


Asbury UniversityWilmore, KY

Admissions Rate 57%
Default Rate 6%
Retention Rate 81%
Graduation Rate 63%
Online Enrollment 26%

A private Christian college with roots in the Wesleyan-Holiness movement, Asbury is now non-denominational, serving students of all Christian backgrounds. The school's campus in Wilmore enrolls about 1,700 students through both campus courses and a respected online degree program. Asbury's online degree candidates choose from several programs at the associate, bachelor's, and master's levels, with both secular and nonsecular options available. Undergraduate degrees are offered in instructional design, ministry management, and elementary education, while master's programs include areas such as social work, business administration, and digital storytelling. The college also offers a wide selection of graduate-level education programs, with both initial and alternative certification routes available in subjects such as social studies, biology, mathematics, Latin, and English as a second language.


Midway UniversityMidway, KY

Admissions Rate 46%
Default Rate 11%
Retention Rate 78%
Graduation Rate 56%
Online Enrollment 60%

With a wide selection of online degree programs that include education, healthcare, marketing, and sports management, Midway has distinguished itself as one of the top online colleges in Kentucky. Courses ranging from 4-8 weeks make the school an ideal choice for working professionals, and Midway's primarily asynchronous online format makes it easy to balance school with other commitments. The college's Credit for Prior Learning Program allows students to earn academic credit for relevant work experience. Military service, a professional portfolio, or professional workshops approved by the American Council of Education can be converted into academic credit with the school's approval. Midway students can apply up to 21 credits toward their undergraduate degree, allowing them to complete their studies faster.


University of KentuckyLexington, KY

Admissions Rate 89%
Default Rate 6%
Retention Rate 83%
Graduation Rate 63%
Online Enrollment 4%

Based in Lexington, UK is the largest school in the state and one of the best online colleges in Kentucky for both undergraduate and graduate students. The school offers online programs in unique disciplines such as digital mapping, retailing and tourism management, manufacturing systems engineering, arts administration, and medical laboratory science.Along with fully online programs, UK offers several hybrid programs that combine campus and online courses. Programs in education policy studies, music education, and rehabilitation services give degree candidates the flexibility of online courses and the engagement of classroom learning. Online students also have access to many college resources, including financial aid, academic advising, a disability center, and a distance learning library.


University of LouisvilleLouisville, KY

Admissions Rate 72%
Default Rate 9%
Retention Rate 79%
Graduation Rate 53%
Online Enrollment 7%

One of the oldest public colleges in the state, UofL is home to more than 22,000 students, and around a quarter of those take at least one online course each quarter. Ranked as one of the best online schools in Kentucky, UofL's online programs include bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, certificates, and teaching endorsements. The college offers undergraduate degrees in nursing, organizational leadership, criminal justice, and communication, while graduate options include criminal justice, social work, civil engineering, and computer science. UofL also offers a unique competency-based bachelor's program in healthcare leadership, which emphasizes experienced-based learning and customized professional training. The degree prepares healthcare professionals for management and leadership positions through an innovative online model that focuses on practical job skills.


Eastern Kentucky UniversityRichmond, KY

Admissions Rate 71%
Default Rate 13%
Retention Rate 74%
Graduation Rate 41%
Online Enrollment 21%

A comprehensive public college based in Richmond, EKU offers career-focused online degrees in areas such as homeland security, emergency medicine, correction and juvenile justice studies, nursing, and occupational safety. Unique among online schools in Kentucky, EKU houses several programs related to fire safety and management, including degrees in the following areas: fire protection administration; fire protection and safety engineering technology; and fire, arson, and explosion investigation. The college is also unique in that it offers the same tuition rate to online students regardless of residency status, making it affordable for online learners across the country. EKU's library accommodates out-of-state students with substantial online resources and can even mail necessary textbooks to students based outside of Kentucky.


Murray State UniversityMurray, KY

Admissions Rate 91%
Default Rate 9%
Retention Rate 72%
Graduation Rate 49%
Online Enrollment 12%

Enrolling more than 10,000 students each year, MSU is one of the largest and most respected online colleges in Kentucky. The school offers over 20 online degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. Students can study traditional subjects such as English and business administration or take advantage of unique programs like nonprofit leadership studies, library media, and telecommunications systems management. MSU is a member of the Southern Regional Education Board's Electronic Campus and the Kentucky Virtual Campus program, two distance education consortiums that combine academic resources to offer greater online learning options to students. Both programs allow MSU degree candidates to take online courses at other member schools, increasing course options and making it easier to fulfill required credits.


Brescia UniversityOwensboro, KY

Admissions Rate 48%
Default Rate 14%
Retention Rate 59%
Graduation Rate 30%
Online Enrollment 58%

Founded in 1950, Brescia is the only Catholic college in western Kentucky, serving over 900 students from its main campus in Owensboro and through its respected distance education program. The school ranks as one of the top online colleges in Kentucky, allowing students to pursue associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees without ever visiting campus. At the associate level, Brescia offers degrees in liberal arts, human services, integrated studies, and business. Options at the bachelor's level include psychology, theology, accounting, and a social work degree completion program. Most degrees are available in an accelerated format in eight-week terms, allowing degree candidates to complete their studies faster. Courses are typically delivered in an asynchronous format with no scheduled class times, which enables students to attend school while meeting work and family obligations.


Western Kentucky UniversityBowling Green, KY

Admissions Rate 93%
Default Rate 13%
Retention Rate 72%
Graduation Rate 43%
Online Enrollment 14%

Home to about 21,000 students, WKU offers more than 100 online degree programs. Undergraduate options include criminology, dental hygiene, computer information technology, and organizational leadership, while graduate programs include social work, public health, and speech-language pathology. WKU also offers a unique selection of recreation and sport administration programs in areas such as facility and event management, intercollegiate athletic administration, and sports media and branding. All WKU's online degrees are available in a blended format, allowing students to take half of their courses on campus and half online. Four campus locations in Bowling Green, Owensboro, Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, and Glasgow make it convenient to pair classroom courses with online learning.


Morehead State UniversityMorehead, KY

Admissions Rate 85%
Default Rate 13%
Retention Rate 66%
Graduation Rate 40%
Online Enrollment 16%

MSU is a prominent regional college that offers unique online degree programs in areas such as educational technology, university studies, leadership in medical imaging, and wellness promotion. Many of MSU's degrees are completion programs that allow students to complete upper-division credits online after earning their lower-division credits either on campus or at another institution. With sufficient lower-division coursework, degree candidates can earn a bachelor's within two years of online study. MSU is also a member of the Southern Regional Education Board's Electronic Campus, a group of regional colleges that share online academic resources. Students enrolled at MSU can take online courses through other member institutions, giving them a greater selection of classes and offering more flexibility in scheduling.


Northern Kentucky UniversityHighland Heights, KY

Admissions Rate 92%
Default Rate 11%
Retention Rate 69%
Graduation Rate 40%
Online Enrollment 11%

Based in the suburb of Highland Heights, NKU's main campus lies along the Ohio border, just seven miles southeast of Cincinnati. Residents of Ohio and Indiana pay in-state tuition at NKU, and online residents of other states pay only slightly more per credit, making the college extremely affordable regardless of location. Degree candidates can pursue several online programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and certificate levels in disciplines such as health science, library informatics, and educational leadership. For working professionals, NKU offers two accelerated, fully online degree programs: an RN-BSN nursing pathway and an MBA. Both degrees feature year-round courses held in accelerated blocks (five weeks for the MBA and seven weeks for the RN-BSN), allowing students to complete their degrees faster and advance their careers.


Campbellsville UniversityCampbellsville, KY

Admissions Rate 76%
Default Rate 14%
Retention Rate 59%
Graduation Rate 37%
Online Enrollment 15%

Though it was founded as a Baptist school, CU now provides secular education to more than 5,000 students annually through its unique online degree options. The school's undergraduate programs include pastoral ministries, Christian studies, and social work, while graduate options include music education, sport management, justice studies, and theology. This online school in Kentucky accommodates transfer students and offers a transfer scholarship for applicants with associate degrees. CU also maintains articulation agreements with the more than 70 members of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, allowing for seamless credit transfer between institutions. Transfer students without an associate degree who possess fewer than 24 credits must submit high school transcripts and standardized test scores along with their application.


Union CollegeBarbourville, KY

Admissions Rate 69%
Default Rate 12%
Retention Rate 56%
Graduation Rate 32%
Online Enrollment 13%

The small city of Barbourville is home to Union, a Christian liberal arts college affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Enrolling around 800 students annually, the school is home to several online programs for both undergraduates and graduate students. UC offers six academic terms each year with multiple start dates, making it convenient for online learners to begin their studies according to their own schedules. Eight-week accelerated courses also allow online learners to complete their degrees more quickly than traditional students. Undergraduate programs are offered in areas such as general management, business administration, substance abuse counseling, and law enforcement. Graduate programs are also available in business administration, science administration, and athletic administration. UC faculty are trained to offer specialized support to working professionals, and the school's online programs use an interactive, practitioner-focused education model.


Kentucky Wesleyan CollegeOwensboro, KY

Admissions Rate 64%
Default Rate 15%
Retention Rate 62%
Graduation Rate 40%
Online Enrollment 3%

A private liberal arts college associated with the United Methodist Church, KWC was founded in 1858 and currently operates a suburban campus in Owensboro. The school enrolls around 700 students, which allows it to offer a more personalized education model and an enviable student-faculty ratio of just 12-to-1. Degree candidates choose from six fully online bachelor's programs in business administration, criminal justice, general studies, graphic design, psychology, or religion. Courses are available in an asynchronous format, requiring no scheduled class meetings and allowing students to complete their work at any time of day. New academic terms begin every two months, and courses use an intensive seven-week format, helping online learners complete their education and enter the workforce faster.


Kentucky State UniversityFrankfort, KY

Admissions Rate 38%
Default Rate 25%
Retention Rate 60%
Graduation Rate 22%
Online Enrollment 12%

The city of Frankfort is home to KSU, a public college that serves more than 2,000 students annually. The school's online programs include bachelor's degrees in criminal justice, psychology, and public administration. KSU also offers a master's degree in special education and a doctorate in nursing practice. The nursing degree is a BSN-DNP program, allowing students who hold a bachelor of science in nursing to obtain their doctorate as an adult gerontology nurse practitioner. For distance learners interested in a more traditional classroom experience, KSU offers interactive videoconference courses at many education sites around the state, including high schools, community colleges, and government offices. These video courses allow for interactions with faculty and other students using two-way videoconferencing technology, mimicking the feel and engagement of conventional classroom learning.


Lindsey Wilson CollegeColumbia, KY

Default Rate 16% Retention Rate 61% Graduation Rate 29% Online Enrollment 4%

Affiliated with the United Methodist Church, Lindsey is a private Christian college based in the Columbia. The school's online program offers undergraduate degrees in business administration, criminal justice, human services and counseling, and nursing. Students can also earn master's degrees in business administration, counseling, and teaching. Most programs feature a convenient eight-week course format, which gives students greater scheduling flexibility and allows them to complete their degrees faster. Wilson is a major educator of working professionals, and the school allows trained professionals to earn up to 30 credits for relevant experience, such as military service. Students who demonstrate sufficient experience may be able to skip entire courses and earn their degree faster.

Best Online Community Colleges in Kentucky for 2018


West Kentucky Community and Technical CollegePaducah, KY

Default Rate 20% Retention Rate 63% Graduation Rate 42% Online Enrollment 20%

Located in Paducah, West Kentucky Community and Technical College has been offering online courses for more than 20 years. To date, nine programs are available completely online through the college's Blackboard platform, including an associate of arts and an associate of science for students who plan to transfer and earn a four-year degree.

Of the more than 6,000 students enrolled at WKCTC, over 2,600 take at least one online class during a given semester. To save students money, the college allows out-of-state distance learning students to take advantage of the in-state student tuition rate. WKCTC has a unique history, as it was formed through the 2003 merger of West Kentucky Technical College, founded in 1909, and Paducah Community College, founded in 1932.


Hazard Community and Technical CollegeHazard, KY

Default Rate 30% Retention Rate 60% Graduation Rate 29% Online Enrollment 23%

Hazard Community and Technical College operates six campuses in Eastern Kentucky and enrolls over 3,300 students. HCTC also offers several online courses and programs, including associate of arts, associate of science, and associate of applied science degrees (e.g., business administration, computer and information technologies, medical information technology). The college also offers certificates and diploma programs in the fields of business, technology, and early childhood education.

Prospective students interested in online learning can apply by submitting their high school or GED transcripts and either standardized test scores or placement test results. The online community college in Kentucky offers the lowest tuition in the state, and 90% of HCTC students receive financial assistance.


Henderson Community CollegeHenderson, KY

Default Rate 21% Retention Rate 47% Graduation Rate 23% Online Enrollment 17%

From its campuses in Henderson and Morganfield, Henderson Community College offers over 1,000 classes online, including those required to earn the marine technology degree and many of the courses required for the logistics and operation management degree.

HCC is one of the few online community colleges in Kentucky that offers students two choices of online learning: learn by term and learn on demand. Learn by term is the traditional method of learning, with virtual classmates and firm start and end dates. Learn on demand offers online classes in full 15-week courses or through 3-5 week modules, and students can choose their start date. Part of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, HCC offers online learners access to a virtual library and 24-hour technical support.


Bluegrass Community and Technical CollegeLexington, KY

Default Rate 24% Retention Rate 52% Graduation Rate 18% Online Enrollment 21%

With seven campuses in Kentucky, including three in Lexington, Bluegrass Community and Technical College offers over 60 programs of study, including 10 online programs. Part of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), BCTC students can also take online courses at any of the 15 other KCTCS colleges, although they must complete 25% of classes through BCTC in order to earn a degree from the college.

BCTC offers academic resources such as advising, tutoring, career services, and transfer information. Additionally, distance learners struggling with technology can access training guides for help with Blackboard, class registration, and scheduling advising appointments. Students at BCTC who are interested in transferring can take advantage of the college's transfer partnerships with several four-year colleges.

How We Ranked the Schools

To determine the best programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school’s commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the best online master’s in management information systems programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school’s ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category’s ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.

Education Trends in Kentucky

Kentucky allocates more tax revenue than the national average towards higher education. The rest of the statistics fall in line with U.S. averages, except for adults over 25 with a bachelor’s degree, where Kentucky is five points under the average.

  Kentucky United States
Source: SHEEO and U.S. Census
Postsecondary Education Spending per Full-Time Student $6,898 $6,954
Percent of Tax Revenue Allocated to Higher Education 7.7% 5.8%
Percentage of adults over 25 with associate degree 7.5% 8.1%
Percentage of adults over 25 with bachelor’s degree 13.1% 18.5%
Percentage of adults over 25 with graduate degree or higher 9.2% 11.2%

Paying for College in Kentucky

Kentucky, like every state, creates a different pricing structure for out-of-state and in-state residents. Kentucky two-year college tuition costs $1,000 more than the national average, but the four-year college tuition average is similar to the national level. Financial aid is available to help control the cost of higher education, and students tend to pay less for housing in Kentucky.

Tuition Prices

The cost of a four-year public postsecondary education in Kentucky closely aligns to the national average. However, the cost for a public two-year postsecondary education is 42% higher than the national average. These statistics do not reflect additional college fees such as books, housing, and transportation.

Financial Aid

By filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), students can see what financial aid options are available to them. The application determines your aid eligibility, which includes federal grants and loans. When applying for aid, all men under the age of 26 must also register with the Selective Service System.

States also offer a variety of scholarships and grants. The Kentucky Lottery provides scholarship funding to colleges. Loans are also a form of financial aid, but they must be repaid with interest.

Cost for Online Programs in Kentucky

Students attending accredited online schools in KY use the FAFSA to apply for financial aid. When awarding financial aid, the majority of online colleges in KY do not discriminate between students on-campus and online learners. There are scholarships available to out-of-state students as well.

Students attending online colleges in Kentucky benefit from not having to pay fees related to transportation and housing. Even if you pay out-of-state tuition, online colleges in Kentucky can still be a cheaper option than attending on campus.

Cost of Living by Region

Below, are the median rent and home prices for Kentucky’s two largest cities: Lexington and Louisville. The prices are compared against three other U.S. cities famous for their colleges and universities. Both Lexington and Louisville offer affordable housing options compared to larger cities.

Scholarships for Kentucky College Students

Ann Crawford Alexander Memorial Scholarship

$1,000; eligible only to Lexington High School graduates or homeschooled students in Fayette County. Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and have earned 12 credit hours at a college or university in Kentucky.

View Scholarship

Kentucky Colonel's Better Life Scholarship

$2,500; this scholarship requires applicants to demonstrate financial need, have at least one child under the age of 12, and have Kentucky residency.

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Kentucky Go Higher Grant

$1,000; eligible to Kentucky residents ages 24 and older who attend school part time. Recipients receive the grant in one lump sum.

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Kentucky Teacher Scholarship Program

$2,500; awarded every semester that a student remains in school; only Kentucky residents with financial need may apply. Students who accept the scholarship agree to teach in Kentucky schools after earning their degree.

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Metlife Foundation Scholarship

$2,000; awarded in one lump sum, this scholarship requires recipients to major in areas related to agriculture.

View Scholarship

Can all Scholarships be Used for Online Programs?

The vast majority of scholarships apply to students attending online colleges in Kentucky. When researching scholarship opportunities, check the fine print regarding scholarship requirements. A scholarship may require you to attend classes on campus or earn a specific major.

Employment Outlook in Kentucky

The majority of Kentucky’s nonagricultural workers work in administrative positions, manufacturing, or sales. The state’s top employers represent some of the nation’s largest healthcare providers and automobile manufacturers. It is within these industries that workers earn the highest salaries. Kentucky’s annual mean salary is $8,000 less than the national average, and the state suffers from relatively high unemployment. However, Kentucky residents benefit from a lower cost of living.

  Kentucky United States
Source: BLS and BLS
Unemployment Rate, May 2017 5.4% 4.3%
Annual Mean Wage, May 2016 $41,760 $49,630

Top Employers and Industries in Kentucky

Top Industries in Kentucky

  • Office and Administrative Support: Employees in this industry provide general clerical work in an office setting. Positions include office support specialists, administrative assistants, and office support clerks.
  • Production: This industry includes all manufacturing, assembly, and technician positions. Construction workers and other professionals, such as electricians and plumbers, are part of this industry.
  • Sales: The sales industry comprises over three dozen related careers, including cashiers, telemarketers, product demonstrators, and insurance salespersons.

Top Employers in Kentucky

  • Humana Inc.: 10,000 employees
  • St Elizabeth Healthcare: 7,000 employees
  • Toyota Motor Mfg Kentucky Inc: 6,974 employees

Accreditation for Colleges in Kentucky

When researching schools in Kentucky, it’s important to consider the school’s accreditation status. Accreditation proves that a school meets certain standards. Regional and national certification are most common. Regional accreditation refers to schools that are accredited by one of six accreditation agencies and is seen as more prestigious by many employers. The U.S. Department of Education supports these agencies and routinely monitors their work. Regionally accredited schools in Kentucky receive their accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Vocational, trade, and online-only schools commonly have national accreditation. This type of accreditation is important for online schools in Kentucky. The three most reputable national accreditation agencies are the Distance Education & Training Council, Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, and the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges. If you discover that a potential online college carries accreditation from a different agency, research it before enrolling.

Resources for Students in Kentucky

  • Kentucky.gov: Kentucky’s state government website contains many links and resources that cover topics such as researching colleges, choosing a major, and applying for scholarships.
  • Kentucky Adult Education: Kentucky Adult Education helps students research colleges and provides resources about career certification courses. Many working professionals take certification courses to advance their careers and earn higher salaries.
  • Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education: This state government agency works to improve access to postsecondary education, as well as the quality. The site has many links to programs that benefit students who return to school after time away due to career or family responsibilities.
  • Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA): The KHEAA offers many student resources, including homework help and advice on paying back student loans.
  • Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation (KHESLC): The KHESLC connects students to federal and state opportunities for students attending college in Kentucky. There are also many resources for parents who wish to start financial planning for their children’s college education.
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