Kudos to our firefighters

This is Fire Prevention Week and it made me realize we don’t give our firefighters the kudos they deserve often enough. They bravely run toward a fire when the rest of us are running away. These heroes save many lives each year, including family pets.

It might surprise you to learn that in the last five years through our Kentucky Fire Commission, KCTCS trained more than 90 percent of the state’s firefighters. This is a featured program for us and one I’m extremely proud of.

Last week was a sad time for firefighters as they held their 16th Annual Fallen Firefighter Memorial. Two courageous men who lost their lives helping others were honored at an event in Frankfort.

In an effort to prevent loss of life, Fire Prevention Week is focused on making sure everyone has working smoke detectors in their homes. This year’s theme is, “Don’t wait. Check the date. Replace smoke alarms every 10 years!” Research shows many people don’t know how old their smoke alarms are and don’t know how often they need to be replaced. Check the back of yours for the date of manufacture. If it’s been more than 10 years, then replace your device.

Let’s make sure no more lives are lost because of smoke alarms that don’t work. And let’s show our appreciation for firefighters, not just this week, but every week.

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If You Don’t Register, You Can’t Vote

If you ask most people about the first time they voted, they’ll probably have vivid memories about it. They can tell you how they felt when they walked into the voting booth, who the candidates were and who they voted for. They also can recall the many emotions they experienced when they completed the process. If you aren’t a registered voter, isn’t it time to take part in this cherished right and privilege we Americans have?

If you’re not registered, our colleges are making it easy for you to. Our student government associations (SGA) across the state are sponsoring voter registration drives. They’ve put up posters on campus, are doing special events and setting up information tables to get the word out about how to register and helping people register online.

We’ve been fortunate to have Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes visit several of our campuses to promote voter registration as well. We appreciate her taking time to come to our campuses, meet with our students and explain the importance of voting.

As of September 29, 225 people have registered to vote during the SGA voter registration drive. But time is running out to register to vote in the November 8 general election.  Voter registration applications have to be submitted by 4 p.m. October 11.

So, if you’re not registered to vote, now’s the time. Register at one of our colleges or online and become part of a powerful group of that will choose America’s next leaders.

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KCTCS Focusing on Safety Procedures This Month

September is National Preparedness Month, and we are testing our safety procedures to make sure we’re ready if an emergency occurs. This week all of our colleges will test their Safety Alert Notification Process (SNAP), which sends text, email and phone messages to students and staff in times of an emergency. We’ll also be testing our website procedures for various crisis notifications.

Although there are many types of emergencies that can happen, including severe weather, fires and bomb threats, the one crisis many people immediately think of is a gunman on campus. Throughout the system, we’ve planned and prepared for these horrible events. Earlier this month, West Kentucky Community and Technical College, in partnership with local first responders, conducted an active shooter drill. Many of our colleges have completed this or other types of mock disaster drills. These exercises help us know what works well and find weaknesses in our plan so we can correct them.

Although we can’t plan for every scenario, we prepare for as much as we can. Some people don’t think a crisis could occur on our campuses, and I hope that’s true. But we must plan and prepare because it’s essential that we all know how to react in various types of emergencies.

The safety of our students and employees is our top priority, so we continue to remind people if they see something, say something. It takes all of us to make sure our campuses are safe and secure, not just during National Preparedness Month, but always.

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Short-term investment offers big payoff

It’s almost impossible to believe the Kentucky Community and Technical College System is now 18 years old. We’ve made great strides in meeting our mission to improve the lives and employability of Kentuckians during that time.

I’m proud of all we’ve achieved, but we can’t be stuck in the past or do things the way we’ve always done them. We are focusing on the future, and we have a new strategic plan that is our roadmap for moving forward.

All of our focus is on student success and training people for good jobs, whether that means they earn credentials in career education and go right to work, or transfer to one of our four-year partners.

When I began this job about 18 months ago, I spent a lot of time thinking about my goals and aspirations for KCTCS. As you can imagine, we focus a great deal of our resources on recruitment and helping people of all ages enroll in a college program. For me, that’s not enough. My goal is for students not only to enroll, but also to complete college.

That’s difficult for many of our students. The average age of our students is 27, so many of them are juggling family and jobs along with college. Job responsibilities, sick children and other life issues get in the way, and sometimes college moves to the back burner.

They also get jobs and drop out before completing their programs. Don’t get me wrong. We’re happy they’re employed. But we have to find ways to get them to stick with their program even after they go back to work. This is becoming more important than ever before. 

Our state faces many changes in the workforce and job outlook over the next several years. We know that most jobs already require some type of postsecondary credential, and that will only continue to increase. We also know that a large number of our workforce will be retiring as Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age in droves.

Even though unemployment numbers are down, many people are working in low paying jobs. That’s mainly because a large portion of Kentucky’s workforce is undereducated. We have a big barrier in our state when it comes to convincing people how important higher education is. It’s a cultural issue that won’t change overnight. But, that doesn’t mean we won’t try to change it.

We’re getting the word out that KCTCS offers hundreds of programs that can be completed in four months or less. Starting salaries for some of these jobs are as high as $60,000. That’s a big payoff for a short-term investment.

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College is About More than Credentials

I love the start of the fall semester. Looking back on my time as a college faculty member, I recall how much fun I had seeing all the new, eager faces on campus and getting to know my new students. The fall semester is a time of new beginnings, filled with hope and optimism.

Many of our students are the first to set foot on a college campus. They are carrying the dreams of their entire family on their backs. There’s pressure to prove they can succeed and pave the way for others who may have wanted to go to college, but for whatever reason, have not.

When students look around our campuses, they’ll see people of all ages, gender, race and income levels.  But now, they also will begin to see their similarities and not their differences. They will get to know each other and find commonalities. They will see they’re in this together, seeking the same goal of a better future.

Yes, the end goal of college is to attain credentials and eventually get a good job. It’s also about learning to be tolerant of others who may be different from you, accepting and learning from those differences and being able to work together. This is not only important in college, but it also is preparation for the workplace. To be successful in a career, people have to learn to work together. It’s not always easy, but learning to accept and compromise is an important part of life.

Welcome to college, and best of luck for a successful semester and college career. Soak it all in, learn as much as you can and have a little fun, too. I know you can do this!

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It All Starts with a Dream

With the Olympics in full swing, I started thinking about how our students are in some ways similar to the highly dedicated athletes who are competing this summer. Olympic athletes start with a dream of becoming good enough to make the team. To reach that goal, they put in hours of hard work each day, are tenacious in their drive to be the best and may suffer setbacks along the way.  Some also have spouses, children and other family members who create demands on their time.

Our students start with a dream, too. In those dreams, they see themselves in good careers earning a salary that allows them to create a better life for their families.  They know to achieve the dream, they’ll have to work hard and be determined in their drive to succeed. Many of them also face balancing jobs and family along with their coursework. But just like the Olympians, students who want to achieve the dream will do so.  

In the end, they may not receive a medal, but what they get for their drive and determination is just as important to them. When they are awarded their college credentials, our students know they’ve accomplished something that wasn’t easy and something that many others have not done. They’ve sacrificed, studied hard and overcome barriers to achieve the dream. I’ve seen many of our students who are just as proud as any Olympian, and they have earned the right to be.

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The Big Split

I have big news about the Big Split! For some time, we’ve talked about upgrading our website, kctcs.edu, with better navigation and more student-friendly content. Our analytics show that even though all of our colleges have websites, about 10 million visits to kctcs.edu last year were to student-focused pages.

To make our sites more student friendly, we’ve split our old site into two sites: kctcs.edu and systemoffice.kctcs.edu. This should give current and prospective students the information and tools they need to find what they want quickly and easily.

So that we can relate to and engage better with our students, we’ve also changed our content to be more student friendly. Our new writing voice is based on what students and prospective students told us about their journey to becoming college students, the barriers they faced and what they needed to be successful.

The research told us prospective students are overwhelmed by the enrollment process, apprehensive about college and need a helping hand. The goal of writing this way is to provide that helping hand so students feel at ease and can see themselves at a KCTCS college. The next step will be to revise content on all the college websites.

The other half of the Big Split focuses on the operations and college support side of KCTCS. On that site, you’ll find financial and business services, leadership information, giving options and system initiatives, most of which don’t affect students. It is the place where vendors, business partners, government partners, job seekers and others will find the information they need to work with us. The site includes a faculty and staff area as well.

The Big Split is another step in helping us recruit and retain more students. If students feel we’re speaking their language and trying to relate to them, they’re going to feel more comfortable at our colleges. Student engagement is one prong of our retention strategy, and student-friendly content is one way we’re moving in that direction.

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Moving Forward: New Strategic Plan Creates KCTCS Map for the Next Six Years

In June, the Board of Regents approved the 2016-22 KCTCS strategic plan. As you recall, the research for this plan was conducted differently than ever before. We started last year by sending a survey to a wide variety of stakeholders and visiting all the colleges to gather input. When all was said and done, more than 4,000 community members, business leaders, students and employees participated.

Now, all of the input and suggestions have been narrowed down into our goals for the next six years. The 2016-22 KCTCS Strategic Plan goals are:

  • Raise the level of educational attainment in the Commonwealth by positioning KCTCS as the accessible, affordable and relevant postsecondary education choice for Kentuckians.
  • Increase the access and success for all KCTCS students, particularly among traditionally underserved populations.
  • Develop clear pathways through all levels of postsecondary education with an emphasis on experiential learning that lead to successful employment outcomes for KCTCS graduates.
  • Improve student engagement, support, experiences, and success with best-in-class academic and student services.
  • Align programs and curricula with needs of employers that enhance the employability, job placement and career development of KCTCS graduates.

Our plan is aligned with several state agencies and associations, like the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board, the Kentucky Department of Education and CPE to ensure we’re all focused on a strategic vision for Kentucky.

Additionally, each college has a new strategic plan that is aligned with the systemwide plan. Their plans focus on local needs and will allow our colleges to have an immediate, as well as long-term, impact on their communities and local business needs.

Thanks again to all of you who participated in helping develop a plan for moving forward toward these new goals. My personal goal is to continue to make KCTCS a model for community colleges around the nation.

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KCTCS Junior Dual Credit Scholarship Coming Soon to a High School Near You

This fall we will offer a free dual credit class to Kentucky public high school juniors, allowing them to earn high school and college credit at the same time. Our program for juniors aligns with Gov. Matt Bevin’s new dual credit initiative primarily for high school seniors, which provides them the opportunity to take two college courses via the new Kentucky Dual Credit Scholarship.

All of our colleges will participate in the state’s scholarship program. There is no cost to students for either the KCTCS Junior Dual Credit Scholarship or the Kentucky Dual Credit Scholarship. If students choose to take more classes than are covered by the state scholarship, they would pay $52 per credit hour.

This week representatives from the colleges and System office met to discuss processes and work through other questions surrounding the state scholarship. The work done in the large group will now flow through a smaller workgroup to finalize the details.

The governor’s goal is for graduates to leave high school with a minimum of nine postsecondary credit hours. By committing $600,000 to a scholarship program for juniors, we will help students meet that goal.

Providing dual credit opportunities to Kentucky high school students to reduce the cost and time required to get a college degree has long been a priority for KCTCS. We are the dual credit leaders in the Commonwealth. Whether students want to quickly earn a credential and go to work or transfer to a four-year university to earn a bachelor’s degree, the nine free credit hours earned in high school will give students a head start.

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New Report Spotlights KCTCS Success

Last week the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence released a report on the state of education in the Commonwealth. One part of the report focuses on higher education with a spotlight on KCTCS and our mission.

The report says that KCTCS has been described as “the most substantial change to the state’s postsecondary system” and that our results “are considered one of the key success stories of the 1997 reforms.” The report also cites statistics from the 2015 NCHEMS report that show how our system drove improvement in several areas, including enrollment growth and degree attainment.

None of this could’ve happened without the hard working men and women at our 16 colleges and the System Office. It also shows we have strong leaders at our colleges who put students first.

The report says we still have work to do to bring Kentucky up to even higher national standards. We know the challenges we face, but we aren’t deterred. Our folks are working diligently to meet the needs of our students, and we remain focused on our mission of improving the lives and employability of Kentuckians.

Thanks to the Kentucky Chamber and Prichard Committee for developing this report. And thanks to everyone at KCTCS who continues to make this system better.

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