• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Rollins to retire at end of year

After nearly 30 years of continuous public service, Carl Rollins plans to retire from his post as head of Kentucky's state student financial aid agencies at the end of the year. The Midway resident was named executive director of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA) and Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation (KHESLC) in 2013, and has been with the agencies for 16 years. Long before taking those jobs, though, Rollins's career in public life was well underway: Four years on the Midway City Council followed by six-and-a-half years as mayor, an unsuccessful bid for Woodford judge-executive (the only election he lost), eight years on Woodford Fiscal Court, and four terms as state representative. Asked why he's stepping down, Rollins laughed and said, "I turned 70 in August and I just think it's probably time to do something a little different and enjoy life." His interview with The Sun suggests he's always enjoyed what he's doing - even the tough stuff. Rollins said that, in 2010, the federal government changed the federal student loan program to a "direct loan" system. "So that changed our whole income stream, but we do a lot of outreach all through the state. We have 13 regional people who go in every high school, middle school, unemployment center, library, do presentations about going to college and what resources are available from state aid and federal aid to make that a possibility for everybody. Everybody can afford to go," Rollins said. His agency also administers all the state financial aid programs from revenue they generate, Rollins said. "None of the General Fund money that we get goes for administration. It all goes directly to students - like the KEES (Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship) program, the college access program or the Kentucky tuition grant program, or any of the other scholarships. We administer something like 15 different scholarship programs," he said. Rollins oversees 150 employees in Louisville and another 150 in Frankfort who service a billion-dollar loan portfolio, including a recently developed private loan program that can supplement federal loans. "Somebody needs more money than they can get from the federal government - that's always best to take, that's the cheapest - that we have ... the Kentucky Advantage Education Loan and ... it's a good service for people in Kentucky. Very affordable," he said. In his time in office, Rollins, a Democrat, has seen the political atmosphere change - most notably, with both chambers of the General Assembly now Republican-led and Republican Gov. Matt Bevin as the chief executive. "I've enjoyed all my time in public office, but of course, being mayor of Midway was especially enjoyable, because the mayor in any town kind of sets the vision for which way the community's going to move," Rollins said. "But all of the other positions on the city county and fiscal court and the House of Representatives were legislative positions. I really enjoy working with groups of people and trying to resolve conflicts to where you get to make decisions that really move Kentucky forward or move your community forward and I think that atmosphere's still there ..." One-party control has been a big switch, Rollins said, but added, "For me, with the change in the governor's administration ... we've been able to really work together, we've worked closely with the Education Workforce Development Cabinet on their two new scholarship programs ... that we administer. So we were involved in developing those with the Workforce Cabinet ..." Rollins said his legislative experience has helped him work across party lines, though he reports to a board and not directly to Gov. Bevin. "We're a really complicated agency, because we do a lot of different things. But all (five) of the board members appointed by Gov. Bevin have been just excellent to work with, and fine people. I think once people get to know us and know what our mission is and then they see all the finance work that goes on behind the scenes to make that possible, I think they really appreciate what we do," he said. Local leaders like Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott and Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said they appreciate the work and personality of Rollins, both then and now. "He's a great guy and he's always been very helpful to me. There's been a time or two I've come to him, if nothing else, just venting, and he's always been very good with a story that relates to his time in office," Vandegrift said. "I think he was really the one who had the foresight to see that Midway was going to have to create jobs one day, and we wouldn't have Midway Station without him." Rollins moved to Midway with his family when he was in 10th grade, attending Midway High School in its last year, then was a member of the first graduating class of Woodford County High School in 1965. "I tell people I graduated from the new Woodford County High School building," he said with a laugh. Rollins and his wife of 42 years, Brenda, have a daughter, Heather Dragan, an elementary school principal in Northern Kentucky, a "great son-in-law" and two grandchildren. Asked what he'll do post-retirement, he said, "I'm a terrible golfer, so that can only get better - it can't get worse." He's also been taking online classes from Lexington Theological Seminary and, the week before last, attended his first Master Gardener class at the Woodford County Agricultural Extension Office. "I don't know what else we'll do. We'll travel some. I may learn how to play a musical instrument - I have no musical talent or ability, so that will be another challenge," he said. "It's been a great career, a great life, and now I'll do something different."

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