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New law helps bring equity back to Kentucky’s only private HBCU

Published: Apr. 20, 2021 at 4:27 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A new path for Simmons College of Kentucky has started this April.

Due to racial injustices dating back to the Great Depression, Kentucky’s only private HBCU faced generational disadvantages and challenges. Now, a few of those road blocks have been removed with a new bill signed into law.

Martell Lilley from Detroit applied to Simmons College of Kentucky for opportunities.

“It was an eye opener just to see how underfunded HBCUs are,” Lilley said.

As a student, Lilley said he saw the support Simmons didn’t get compared to surrounding universities. That gap, the school’s executive Vice President Dr. Frank Smith said, was created by forced space nearly 100 years ago.

“Prior to 1930, Simmons had multiple degree offerings,” Smith said. “Ranging from medical school, law school, nursing programs here and academic.”

Due to the Great Depression the school had to forfeit its campus. Then another hit came from the University of Louisville after it acquired Simmons in the early 1930s.

“A no compete clause,” Smith said. “We had to implement it because they didn’t want Simmons to provide liberal arts education, only focus on theological education.”

UofL pushed students out of Simmons and into UofL, in the end dismantling Simmons’ alumni base and future endowments.

Now in April 2021, Senate Bill 270 has been signed into law by Governor Andy Beshear.

“(It will) help bring back equity to Simmons College of Kentucky,” Smith said.

The law makes Simmons students eligible for the Kentucky Tuition Grant, a nearly $3,000 value. It also provides a $200,000 provisional pilot program to invest in West Louisville and a partnership with Kentucky State University and other HBCUs in the commonwealth, including credit transfers.

Opportunities Lilley wishes he had but is thankful the road for those coming after him will be smoother.

“Give them the motivation to be able to say okay now that the financial piece is out the way I can just focus on the academics and striving to graduate,” Lilley said.

Simmons supporters and students can now say the law polishes a jewel that’s been hidden in plain sight.

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