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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Myth Busters

Still not convinced college is for you? What’s holding you back? Some people have a number of reasons why they think they can’t attend college, but I want to do a little myth busting.

Here are a few of the top reasons I hear that are holding people back and my answers to them.

  1. I work full-time and have no time to go to class. Try online classes. KCTCS is the state’s largest provider of online classes, so     surely, there’s something for you. Thousands of Kentuckians are taking advantage of this flexible way to earn college credentials.
  2. I don’t want to spend years getting my education. We have hundreds of programs that can be completed in four months or less that lead to good jobs. Many don’t require a bachelor’s or even an associate degree. This includes jobs like lineman, electrician, health care professional, machinist … and the list goes on and on.
  3. I’m not college material. Says who? You might be surprised how well you do in college. I’ve heard countless students tell me they thought they couldn’t do it, but they did. Start small. Work toward one credential and see how it goes. I’ll bet you come back for more!
  4. It’s too expensive. Tuition at KCTCS is the lowest in the state. You’ll pay half the cost at KCTCS versus our four year partners. Plus, there are numerous grants, scholarships and work-study programs you can apply for. New this year, is the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship that pays your tuition for up to 32 hours toward a credential in five high-demand business sectors. Definitely check it out.

In addition to keeping the cost of college as low as possible, KCTCS bookstores will save you money. We’ve been working with Barnes & Noble College, the company that runs our bookstores, to keep textbook costs as low as possible. Over the last two years, our students have saved an average of $109. You can buy or rent, and our bookstores have a price match program that lets you compare and save in-store or online. Additionally, some faculty are part of a program allows you to access your books online immediately for less than $70.

The fall semester is just around the corner, and we want to see you on one of our campuses. No more excuses! You can have a better job, and a better life, sooner than you think.

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AOKY Providing Better Lives for Kentuckians

In 2011, KCTCS, along with community colleges in Illinois, Kansas and Louisiana, launched a new program through Jobs for the Future called Accelerating Opportunity. The goals of Accelerating Opportunity Kentucky (AOKY) were threefold.

  • Allow students who need to earn their GED to do so while they are also enrolled in college courses
  • Allow students to earn one or more certifications that helps them get a better job now with a family sustaining wage
  • Allow students to earn college credit that leads to a degree in the future

I was involved with AO right from the beginning because I strongly believed Kentuckians could benefit from this program. And they have.

A recently released report shows the program was a success in all four of the pilot states. In total, 4,300 students earned more than 79,000 college credits and nearly 6,800 college credentials. The study looked at the likelihood of AO students earning a college credential over a comparison group. At KCTCS, we saw a 133 percent increase in our AO students versus their counterparts who were not in the program.

The AOKY students who became employed also got better jobs than those in the control group. Our AOKY students had a gain in earnings of 43 percent over the average comparison group earnings. That increase averages $855 per quarter.

Our internal research shows that students benefit from the style of the program as well. Students begin their classes with a group and the group stays together throughout the program. This cohort model provides a support system for students who may not have one at home since many are first-time college students. The cohort model, along with the team teaching and coaching concept, has proven to be an important component of student success.

Recently, I had the opportunity to see a personal example of AOKY student success. While visiting one of our colleges, I met a student who spoke very eloquently about AOKY and how it helped her not only in moving toward her career dreams, but also in building her self-confidence. Like many students who have been out of school for a while, she had doubts about her ability to succeed in college. Now, through AOKY, she’s found she can be successful and is well on her way to an associate degree. But, she’s not stopping there. She plans to go to medical school!

Here’s even more good news to share about the AOKY program. Students who are enrolled in our AOKY program are eligible for the new Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program, which covers up to 32 credit hours in five business sectors. Students who are working on their GED while also earning college credentials can apply for the new scholarship for programs in health care, advanced manufacturing, transportation/logistics, business services/information technology and construction/trades.

Many thanks to Gov. Bevin for opening up the scholarship to AOKY students. I am so proud of the work we’ve done in AOKY and believe this new opportunity can help us improve the lives and employability of even more Kentuckians.

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Camping KCTCS Style

Summer is here and so are our summer camps! If the kids are bored and you’re worried about them having too much screen time, then sign them up for a camp at one of the 16 KCTCS colleges.

The colleges offer a wide variety of fun options – everything from criminal justice, 3D printing and robotics to cooking, archery and art. For example, Somerset Community College is just wrapping up its Kids Kollege. This two-week event included topics like Superhero Science and outdoor adventures where participants learn about eco systems, habitats and streams.

Madisonville Community College is gearing up for its Summer Youth College July 10-13. Activities are available for first – sixth grade and include learning about farming and art as well as many other options. The college also just completed a camp for underserved students that featured a retired NASA engineer who talked about STEM careers and the upcoming eclipse.

Speaking of astronauts, West Kentucky Community and Technical College offers camps at their Challenger Learning Center and Big Sandy Community and Technical College sponsored a two-day camp exploring what happens to the human body in space.

Most of our colleges also participate in the Governor’s Minority Student College Preparation, a program that started in 1986 to help middle school students become aware of the benefits of college and help prepare them to be successful in college.

Summer camps aren’t just for kids, though. Some colleges offer experiences for adults. For example, Southcentral Community and Technical College brought students, teachers and counselors in for advanced manufacturing camp. There are still many misperceptions about today’s manufacturing, which is no longer dirty, dark and dangerous. Showing prospective students and those who influence them how different today’s high tech manufacturing is will help spread the word that these are great career options.

To help our prospective students be ready to dive right in this fall, our college in Owensboro offers a program for college readiness until Aug. 4. For those who want to use their summer vacation to brush up on the basics, Bluegrass Community and Technical College is offering a free boot camp on reading, math and English for students of all ages.

These are just a few of the activities going on around the state at our colleges this summer. There truly is something for everyone, but it’s about more than just fun and games. Summer camps offer youngsters a glimpse into what college is. Because Kentucky’s college-going rate needs improvement, it’s important to get our youth on campuses and provide a positive experience. The goal is for them to see themselves as a college student a few years down the road, which is something some Kentucky kids would not consider without these experiences.

Although we try to work in a little down time with family during the summer, it’s also a good time to get involved in college camps. Check with your local college to see what’s right for your camper. Some activities will be outdoors, but no tent or lanterns are needed at these camps.

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Get In, Get Out and Get to Work!

Kentucky recently got great news for people who want to get a good job! The new Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program provides free tuition for college credit in one of the five business sectors that are considered high demand in Kentucky. Those sectors are health care, advanced manufacturing, transportation/logistics, business services/information technology and construction/trades.

Our colleges offer more than 200 programs in these fields. Many of the programs can be completed in four months or less and lead to careers that pay better than some requiring a bachelor’s degree.

Employers throughout the state are having a tough time filling jobs in these fields, mainly because there are not enough people with the skills needed to perform many of today’s jobs. Currently, there are 165,000 Kentuckians who are not working, and our workforce participation rate ranks 47th nationally. These are troubling statistics, but the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program can help turn this around.

Anyone who has not yet earned a college degree of any type is eligible for free tuition toward earning a certificate or diploma in one of the five sectors. There are no income or age limits to qualify. The only educational requirement to apply is a high school diploma or GED.

I’m excited about this opportunity for the thousands of Kentuckians who felt they couldn’t afford college or thought it would take too long to complete a program. The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program is a game changer for those who want to get in, get out and get to work.

Our website has more information about the programs and how to apply for the scholarship.

 

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Summer Pell Included in New Federal Budget

Since I was appointed to the board of Rebuilding America’s Middle Class (RAMC) last year, one of the top issues we’ve advocated for is the expansion of Pell Grants for summer classes. I’m happy to report Congress included funding for this important grant in its recent budget bill that funds the government through the end of September.

This means students can receive financial help for three semesters, not just two. Summer Pell Grants are crucial for many of our students because it will help them graduate sooner, enter or re-enter the workforce sooner and complete their programs with less debt. Research shows students who take classes year round are more likely to complete their programs.

Serving on the RAMC board has put me in a strong position to advocate for KCTCS and other community colleges all across the U.S. Many policy makers at the federal level don’t have a good understanding of community colleges and the value they bring to our country. My job, and that of the rest of the board, is to show legislators and others that community colleges are the key to building a stronger workforce, and in turn, a stronger middle class.

Our next step is to advocate for additional expansion of Pell to include Workforce Pell Grants. We’ll also be working toward reforms that address data quality and student loan eligibility concerns, improved reverse transfer processes, improved rules regarding gainful employment and increased federal support and investment in community colleges.

I’ll continue to post information in my blog as we make progress on these issues that are so important to KCTCS and all community colleges.

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No bachelor’s degree needed for these high paying jobs

A new day has dawned for northeast Kentucky. Last week, Braidy Industries and Gov. Bevin made a major announcement about a new plant that will create badly needed jobs in the area.

So why is this big news for KCTCS? One of the many reasons Braidy Industries chose northeast Kentucky for their plant was the availability of the right type of education for their employees. Our Ashland Community and Technical College will provide onboarding services and offer the associate in applied science degree in Material Sciences that some Braidy employees will need.

In the time it takes students to earn this degree or other credentials, the plant should be up and running. ACTC also will work with Braidy Industries to provide ongoing training as needs change over time.

The company will construct the nation’s first Greenfield aluminum rolling mill in over three decades. The plan is for it to become the nation’s low-cost producer of high-quality auto body sheet aluminum, plate and ultra-high strength alloys for the aerospace industry. Along with this come 1,000 constructions jobs, 550 permanent highly skilled jobs and another 1,000 supporting services jobs in Greenup County. And, these jobs pay well! The average salary is more than $70,000.

Over the last several years, this part of the state lost some major employers and had not found a way to bounce back – until now. The announcement of this new facility is a good example of how we work with businesses to provide what they need for workforce education and shows that people don’t always need a bachelor’s degree to earn a good salary.

Congratulations to Braidy Industries, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and to us! We look forward to a long partnership.

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Why Community College?

Today’s students have an array of options when it comes to higher ed, so why choose a community college? Wow! There are many reasons, and they are so compelling that since 2000, nearly 835,000 Kentuckians have chosen to attend one of our 16 KCTCS colleges.

Since April is Community College Month, I thought it was a good time to let everyone know why they should choose KCTCS. To borrow an idea from the old David Letterman Show, here is the top 10 list.

  1. KCTCS has the lowest tuition in Kentucky – less than half the cost of four-year universities.
  2. If you want to get trained quickly and get to work, we offer many programs that can’t be found anywhere else and can be completed in four months or less for jobs that pay up to $60,000.
  3. Our colleges are close to home. There is a KCTCS college within a 30-minute drive of 95 percent of all Kentuckians.
  4. We are Kentucky’s largest provider of postsecondary education. Nearly half of all undergrads in Kentucky attend KCTCS, so Higher Education Begins Here is not just a tagline.
  5. Students who begin their college journey at a community college and transfer to a four-year institution do as well or better than those who attend a four-year institution from the beginning.
  6. Need online classes? KCTCS is the largest provider of online classes in Kentucky.
  7. If health care careers are appealing, you can join the 69 percent of Kentucky allied health care workers who received their education at KCTCS.
  8. If skilled trades interest you, we have that! KCTCS trains 82 percent of the state’s skilled trade workers – everything from welding and HVAC, to lineman and fiber optics training.
  9. You can get your education and earn money at the same time! Through Kentucky FAME, students earn college credit and a salary while working in advanced manufacturing.
  10. KCTCS is open to everyone, and we have no application fee.

These 10 reasons may be why so many people choose KCTCS, but think about the overarching reason people attend college – they have dreams of a better life for themselves and their families. Community college offers that for many who thought they couldn’t go to college or maybe couldn’t do college work. Once they enter our doors, they find they can do the work, earn a credential and get a good job or transfer to one of our four-year partners. Entering our doors is just the first step. What happens next is that many more doors will be open to our students. Doors they never imagined opening for them, and without an education, wouldn’t have.

Although cost, programs and access are reasons students choose KCTCS, the main reason is to create a better life. Helping people improve their lives and employability is our mission. We live it every day, and we’re celebrating it during Community College Month. Open our doors and see why community college has been the right choice for so many.

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