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.