KCTCS betters lives through career and technical education programs

Nationally and in Kentucky, there’s a lot of attention on workforce development because so many jobs are unfilled due to the lack of skilled workers. We are the solution to the state’s workforce shortage because no one is doing more to educate today’s and tomorrow’s workers than KCTCS. We’re the number one provider of workforce education in Kentucky, educating 82 percent of the state’s skilled workers.

February is Career and Technical Education Month (CTE), so I thought this was a good opportunity to highlight some of our students and programs.

Many students come to us not really sure what they want to do with their lives. They just know they need to earn a college credential so they can better their lives. We see this with people of all ages and backgrounds.

  • Veterans are one of the most important groups on our campuses. Some of them say they felt a little lost after leaving the military and didn’t know what they wanted to do. Many have found our career education programs are a good fit because the hands-on classes are similar to what they’ve experienced in the military.
  • People who’ve experienced a life-changing event, such as a job loss or divorce, are looking for a quick way to earn a credential and get a good job. We offer hundreds of short-term certificates that can be earned in four months or less. Some of these programs can lead to jobs that pay as much as $60,000.
  • First-generation college students choose KCTCS because of our smaller class sizes and campuses right in their backyards. They also choose KCTCS because they can quickly get the education they need to find a job in their communities.

We have partnerships with businesses all over the state to make sure our students are getting relevant courses for jobs with local companies. One student who’s found his niche with a local company is Austin Rodriquez.

I’ve heard numerous stories from students about why they chose one of our 16 colleges, but few have moved me as much as Austin’s. His home life was turbulent to say the least. His father was in a gang. There was violence in the home and the family suffered from poverty. Austin said his home life was so distracting that he couldn’t focus on school. He was told by educators that he was slow and would end up a statistic – either in jail or dead.

After moving from Wisconsin to the Bowling Green area, Austin learned about the Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program and Southcentral Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (SKY FAME) chapter. From that moment, the direction of his life changed, and he has never looked back.

The AMT program allows Austin to earn a paycheck at a local manufacturing facility, Bowling Green Metalforming, while getting hands-on experience and a college degree from Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College.

Austin is just one of our incredible students. You can view his story and several others in their own words at betterlivesky.com. Just click on the college name and a student video will be available. Not all of the featured students are in our CTE programs, but all have come to KCTCS to seek a better life for themselves and their families.

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Three Million Served!

The KCTCS Workforce Solutions team throughout the state recently reached a milestone of providing service to three million participants. That’s a lot of workforce education!

Our colleges offer businesses and individuals classes on hundreds of topics and provide workplace assessments ranging from nationally recognized certifications to specific licenses required by the state.

The centerpiece of our workforce and economic development efforts is the KCTCS Trains program. Through the program, companies receive funding to assist with the cost of providing workforce training and assessment services to current and potential employees. It’s part of the Kentucky Skills Network, a partnership of workforce professionals from the Cabinet for Economic Development, Kentucky Career Center, Labor Cabinet and KCTCS.

In addition to Workforce Solutions programs, our colleges work closely with local businesses to make sure we offer programs that meet their needs. Those needs change as technology and other requirements in the workplace change, so we make sure we’re providing our students with what employers require.

As you can imagine, with three million participants, we have numerous success stories about our Workforce Solutions program. We’re helping companies save money, making their teams more efficient and helping individuals pass licensing exams. Stay tuned to see how we can better the lives of the next three million!

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Celebrating 2017 accomplishments, looking ahead to 2018

Happy New Year! As we begin the new year, many people spend time thinking about the old year, and what’s to come in the new one. I’m no different.

The only measure of our success is the accomplishments of our students, and we are invested in the success of each one. So, I’ll start there with my look back.

Last year was a good one for KCTCS. More people graduated from our colleges than ever before; 16,146 to be exact. That’s an increase of nine percent over the year before. This is important because one of the main reasons KCTCS was created was to make sure more Kentuckians earned college credentials. This record number of graduates shows we’re moving in the right direction with many more students completing programs and earning college credentials.

Speaking of credentials, we awarded a record number in 2016-17 as well. The total number of credentials, 34,502, increased by 12 percent over the prior year. Associate degrees were up three percent, diplomas 23 percent and certificates 16 percent. Overall, we’ve increased our credentials awarded by 250 percent since KCTCS was created 20 years ago.

Additionally, we are now teaching more dual credit students than ever before. CPE recently released the latest dual credit numbers, which showed the number of high school students taking college courses at KCTCS more than doubled in two years, increasing from 12,656 students in 2014-15 to 25,616 in 2016-17. This is primarily because of two things – Gov. Bevin’s creation of a dual credit scholarship and our dual credit scholarship for high school juniors.

One of our most important mandates from state government is to develop Kentucky’s workforce. Last year, we reached a milestone in our Workforce Solutions program, which has now served three million participants since it began.

We were part of a group receiving for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Pinnacle Award for the Bridging the Talent Gap research that was conducted with business leaders. The survey helped identify skill shortages in the state and the data will assist KCTCS and other education providers in better understanding workforce and education needs. This was a partnership with Kentucky SHRM, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky Cabinet for Education and Workforce and many others.

Now, what’s on the horizon for 2018? We’ll continue to focus on workforce education and readiness while not taking our eyes off transfer, because we believe we are the answer to Kentucky’s skilled workforce shortages.

Focusing on jobs still applies when thinking of transfer students. Here’s why. No matter if we’re preparing someone to enter the workforce quickly or to transfer to a four-year partner, the end goal is for the student to get a top notch education and become employed. Whether that employment is as a teacher, an accountant, a welder or in advanced manufacturing.

We know employers are counting on us just as much as our students are, so the more we can work together, the better. We’re open to developing new partnerships, apprenticeships and classes that local businesses need to fill open positions.

The other thing I’m excited about for 2018 is that KCTCS turns 20 this year! Many of our individual colleges are much older, but when we combined the power of all 16 colleges, those individual sparks turned into an explosion of change, opportunity and economic growth for Kentucky. We have accomplished many goals in our first 20 years and have much more to do.

No matter what year we’re looking at, you can bet our success is because of our amazing faculty and staff.  Our folks truly care about their students and their success. Time and time again, I’ve heard students say that a specific faculty member, advisor or other employee made a huge difference in their life. They become mentors and friends to students, helping them navigate the college waters that are foreign to them.

We employ people from all 120 counties, and they are the heart of our institutions. Without them, we could not better the lives of so many Kentuckians—nearly 875,000 so far. KCTCS continues to be a beacon of hope for many who’ve been told, or think, they aren’t college material. Our faculty and staff show them they are.

As we begin 2018, I’m truly energized about the future of our colleges! Cheers to the next 20 years and beyond!


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Giving back on Giving Tuesday

Now that you’ve devoured your Thanksgiving dinner, shopped till you dropped on Black Friday, supported local businesses on Small Business Saturday and are grabbing bargains on Cyber Monday, add one more thing to your list. Consider making a donation to your favorite charity tomorrow on Giving Tuesday. Now in its sixth year, Giving Tuesday has grown into a worldwide event that encourages people to support philanthropy.

Many worthwhile charities in your community need your help, so please remember to keep your favorite nonprofits in mind and send a little their way on Nov. 28. If you can’t afford to make a monetary donation, ask about volunteer opportunities. Most nonprofits run on shoestring budgets and welcome any extra help.

KCTCS students need your help, too. We serve a number of low-income, first-generation and underrepresented minority students who depend on scholarships and grants. Some of our colleges are participating in Giving Tuesday, and all 16 are happy to receive donations for scholarships and other programs. To donate to any of our colleges, visit the KCTCS Foundation website or the Giving page of any college website.

This holiday season, please remember those who are less fortunate. You can make a difference in someone’s life, and you’ll truly feel the spirit of the season when you give to others.

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Veterans Sacrifice for Our Freedom and Liberty

This Saturday, people will gather to honor those who have served our country. We’ll celebrate with parades, free meals for veterans and solemn events in remembrance of loved ones and those we didn’t even know.

Being a member of the military is a family affair. The service member makes sacrifices, but so do his or her family members. The family likely moves multiple times. Childcare falls to one parent or sometimes grandparents. Children change schools; spouses give up jobs. To them, it’s just a way of life. The rest of us may not think about the sacrifices these families make on a day-to-day basis, but we should.

Although we have only one designated day to honor veterans, we can’t forget they had our backs 24/7/365. Our military heroes have made many sacrifices so that we can live in freedom − freedom to choose the life we want, worship as we want, enjoy freedom of speech and all the other rights afforded to us under our constitution.

Our veterans served because they love their country. They certainly didn’t do it for fame and fortune. They selflessly performed their duties to allow the rest of us to enjoy the security and liberty of living in America.

We are fortunate to have a number of veterans on our campuses, and our doors are always open for more of them to join us. They are a terrific addition to our colleges, and we are proud to have them!

Saturday, as you take part in Veterans Day activities, don’t forget to thank a veteran. You probably have several in your family, your church and your workplace. It is impossible to ever thank them enough for all they’ve done, but we can try.

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KCTCS and Kentucky Manufacturers Helping Students Have Better Lives

As Manufacturing Month comes to a close, I want to thank all of our terrific manufacturing partners from across the state. We work with about 275 companies on a yearly basis. Because of them, many of our students get on-the-job training while attending classes. Others are ready to step out of college and into a job in their communities.

Our manufacturing partnerships are critical to the success of our students, and it is imperative that we provide exactly what these companies need. We’re committed to being responsive as their needs and technology continue to change. Whether it’s educating their future employees in one of our many career programs, or providing the latest industry specific training for incumbent employees, we’re focused on providing relevant education.

This includes adding soft skills to our programs. Companies have told us loud and clear that our students need to be learning professionalism in the workplace, communication skills, critical and integrative thinking and organizational skills. Because of their requests, we now provide this as part of our programs.

We are fortunate to work with these companies, and our graduates are fortunate to work for them. Between 2010 and 2016, more than 5,700 of our graduates were employed by Kentucky manufacturers.

The only measure of our success is through the success of our students. Our mission at KCTCS is to improve the lives and employability of Kentuckians, and this is just one way we are doing that.

Thanks again to all of our manufacturing partners for helping our students achieve their dreams of a better life through a better job!

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Four KCTCS colleges among the best in the U.S.

Every field has an award that signifies its recipients are leaders, innovators or just plain good at what they do. For us, that award is the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

Nationally, there are more than 1,100 community colleges, and I’m very proud the Aspen Institute has named four of our colleges to the top 150. What’s even more impressive is this is not the first time these colleges have been recognized by the Aspen Institute.

  • Big Sandy Community and Technical College – Top 150 in 2011
  • Hazard Community and Technical College − Fifth time in the top 150
  • Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College – Top 150 (2011) and top 10 (2012)
  • West Kentucky Community and Technical College − In the top 10 every year the prize has been awarded and named a finalist-with-distinction in 2011 and 2015.

The colleges are now eligible to move into phase two of the completion for a $1 million prize. The second phase narrows the field from 150 to the top 10, which will be named in May 2018. The Aspen Institute then will conduct site visits to those 10 colleges to collect additional data to determine a grand prize winner, finalist(s) with distinction and rising star(s). Those colleges will be announced in spring 2019.

Colleges are judged on learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings, and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students.

Clearly, being recognized as part of this elite group is a major accomplishment. All of us at KCTCS celebrate this achievement with our four members of the top 150!

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Learning What a Better Life Means to Students

On September 18th, I kicked-off my Better Lives for a Better Kentucky Tour at Ashland Community and Technical College (ACTC). Although fog made my morning drive to Ashland a bit of a challenge, I had a terrific day with faculty, staff and students at the Technology Drive Campus. We had a large number of faculty and staff from all campuses and approximately 25 highly engaged students ranging in age from teens to 60s. I also met with the college leadership team and the editor of the local paper.

Between now and December, I’ll be visiting all of our colleges. There are a couple of reasons for my visits. We’re coming up on our 20-year anniversary as a unified system and many of the colleges are having milestone years as well.

Can you believe Ashland Junior College and Ashland Vocational School were founded in 1938? They had 194 students in the first class at the junior college and 17 at the vocational school. They’ve grown a bit since then!

So, we have many accomplishments to celebrate at our colleges and as a system. Now, it’s also time for us to look forward. The world has changed a great deal since KCTCS was formed and since our colleges were created. Students’ needs have changed, our communities’ needs have changed and the workforce has changed. Therefore, we must adapt and change to make sure we provide our students with the relevant education they need to be successful.

This past spring, research was conducted at all of our colleges with students, faculty and staff as well as student government presidents and prospective students. This research was compiled to assist us in establishing our future organizational DNA that differentiates us from other higher education institutions. Part of my tour this fall, is to discuss the findings and get feedback. The hardest part of adopting a new identity is not in communicating it, but in living it. Learning from our internal audiences how best to do that is a major focus for my college visits.

One of the findings of our research showed internally and externally people believe the 16 colleges of KCTCS are here to help Kentuckians have better lives. So, I asked the ACTC students about that. I was moved by what I heard. Stories of job loss and second chances. Stories of single parents trying to go to school, raise children (some with special needs) and put food on the table. Stories of parents showing their kids mom or dad can do this and you can, too. And stories of what they hope to have when they complete their programs – financial freedom, no more living paycheck to paycheck, moving into their own homes and being marketable for more than one type of job.

There was no fog in that student meeting room. Everyone was clear on what they wanted and what they needed to do to achieve it. There was no doubt these students expected the college to help them have better lives.

I left Ashland feeling energized about what I’d heard and what else I might hear at other colleges. I’ll be sharing all of it through my blog and on my website. Stay tuned.

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A New Way to Think About Football

It’s football time in the bluegrass state and I’ve spent some time thinking about the upcoming season. I can’t help but notice the similarities between KCTCS colleges and football.

The Huddle is like our colleges. In that huddle are people of different regions, races, religions and beliefs. We have people from different backgrounds: the single mother trying to make a better life for her children, the veteran looking to find his or her place outside of the military, the first generation college student ready to take on the world and every story in between. Like football players, they come from different places, they have different strengths and they all play certain roles, but they are all here for a common goal: to succeed.

The Ball is outside factors in our students’ lives. They are holding on to jobs, families, responsibilities and school and trying to push forward without fumbling.

The Coaches are the great faculty and staff at our colleges. They guide our students through their academic game plan and help with pep talks, motivational speeches and tough love moments, if they’re needed. They push our students to reach their full potential, and help them reach the end zone of graduation.

The game clock. Some of our students are starting the first quarter, some are in the fourth and some are trying to pull themselves together during halftime. The great thing about our colleges, and football, is there is always time. I love that the clock can read three minutes in the fourth quarter, but there’s still enough time to push down field and get a touchdown to win the game. The same goes for our students; it’s never too late for you to succeed. You still have time.

So if you’re watching football this weekend, think about how loyal football fans are to their team. It’s the same with the faculty and staff at our colleges. We’re here for you. You’re our team, and we’re rooting for you week after week because your success = our success.

Go You!

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Seven Tips for a Successful Semester

Over the years, students have told me they didn’t believe they could succeed in college. Some even delayed going to college because they didn’t believe in themselves. Soon after enrolling, though, they found they could be successful and college was one of the greatest experiences of their lives.

So, how did they do it? There’s really no secret plan or mystery behind it. You have to want it, be committed and do what needs to be done. Sometimes, when the going gets tough, people lose their motivation and are tempted to give up. But don’t! If that happens, remember these tips.

  1. Go to class. This seems like a no-brainer, but showing up is very important, even if your class is online. Participation counts because it shows you’re interested in doing well, and faculty members notice.
  2. Get to know your professors. They are here to help you, and they want to help you. Just ask!
  3. Meet with an advisor early and often. I can’t stress this enough. Work with your advisor so you stay on track.
  4. Ask for help if you are struggling in a class. Take advantage of tutoring or other programs that are there for you.
  5. Get involved. Joining organizations and participating in campus events make college more enjoyable. It’s tempting to go to class and then go home, but your college experience will be better if you make new friends.
  6. Be careful with student loans. Don’t borrow more than you need. There is a day of reckoning. Did you know that defaulting on student loans ruins your credit score? Or that even if you file bankruptcy, you are still required to pay student loans? Borrowing money for college is a serious commitment. Treat it that way.
  7. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Yes, some classes will be more challenging than others. Yes, you have other commitments that infringe on your classwork time. But you can do this! Thousands before you have, and you can, too!
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