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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March Madness Has a Different Meaning for Students

This is an exciting time of year for basketball fans, especially for those of us who live in Kentucky. March Madness takes on a life of its own here, and that’s just the way fans like it. Recently, while thinking about basketball and brackets and all the other fun that goes along with March Madness, I thought about what an important time of year it is for our students, too.

Just like their favorite basketball teams, our students are focused on the final days of their season, also known as the spring semester. They’ve worked hard, they’ve balanced school along with work and family and now the championship – finals, and for some, graduation – is just ahead.

The stretch between spring break and the end of the semester can be stressful. But, just like basketball players, now is the time students must dig in and keep the bigger goal in sight.

We hear coaches talk about the importance of not giving up when they’re down, executing plays and not making mental mistakes. Some students face similar challenges as daily life gets in the way and interferes with the execution of their game. That’s when our faculty and staff step up to make our big play. Our team coaches, mentors and cheers students on, especially during the last part of each semester.

March Madness has begun, and we’ll enjoy some great basketball. But more importantly, we’ll make sure the students at our Sweet 16 colleges are on the path to their big win for the semester.

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Don’t overlook short-term career education programs

Since it’s Career and Technical Education Month, I’d like to share some KCTCS stats. We train 82 percent of the skilled trades workers and 69 percent of allied health care professionals in Kentucky. We’re also the state’s largest overall provider of workforce training. That’s why career and technical education is so important to us. Yes, most of our students transfer to one of our four-year partners to earn bachelor’s degrees. But not everyone wants or needs a four-year degree.

We offer many programs that can be completed in months, not years. Some of these programs have salaries that go up to $60,000. One example is the lineman program some of our colleges offer. Lineman program classes are taught by professionals who have worked or are working in the field. That is true of most of our short-term programs, which give students real insight into these careers. For those who don’t see themselves in a classroom, our short-term programs offer hands-on opportunities to learn a skill and earn a credential.

I don’t in any way discount the value of a traditional bachelor’s degree. For some careers, it’s the only way to go, and receiving a well-rounded education is terrific. But, it’s important for those who want to get to work quickly in high paying jobs in their communities to know you can’t beat a short-term credential program.

As Career and Technical Education Month winds down, help spread the word about the many benefits of short-term programs.

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The Crisis in Black Education: 2017 Black History Month Theme

When you think of a crisis, you probably think of a natural disaster, active shooter or some other sudden event. The truth is, most crises are not sudden. The majority have been smoldering for some time and finally erupt. Such is the case for the achievement gap in education. It’s now become a full blown crisis. That’s why the Study of African American Life and History has deemed “The Crisis in Black Education” the national theme for Black History Month this year.

Experts have studied the issue. It’s been the topic of numerous scholarly articles, and there have been a number of initiatives aimed at closing the achievement gap. There are pockets of success around the country, but to date, there’s no national fix for this challenge.

Despite the challenge, African-American families are big believers in education. They always have been. They know education is the key to achieving the American dream, and they want to make sure their children have the opportunity to live their dreams.

The role of KCTCS is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Community colleges were founded on the concept of social justice and providing all Americans an affordable and accessible education. Over the years, under-represented populations have enjoyed increased access to postsecondary education, largely through the doors of community and technical colleges.

Does that mean we have all the answers? Obviously not. What it does mean, is that we are committed to doing everything we can to build upon historic as well as current efforts to satisfy a love of learning and a thirst for knowledge. Closing the achievement gap is at the top of our priority list. This begins with bringing more people of color through our doors, but that’s just the first step. We also must make sure these students leave us with a credential that allows them to have a career that pays family-sustaining wages.

This is so important to us that we’ve made it part of our six-year strategic plan. We know the best way to empower people is through education, and that a good job is the first step to economic prosperity.

Acting to ensure the benefits of education are available to African-American students is an important opportunity facing us right now.  It deserves our focus until it is resolved.


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Our focus for 2017

In 1992, James Carville helped develop Bill Clinton’s campaign strategies. One of those strategies people still talk about was written on a sticky note: The economy, stupid. This was a note Carville wrote to himself to remind him the team was not focused on one of the most important issues voters were concerned about.

As I’ve thought about 2017 and our priorities, I’m borrowing Carville’s idea and writing a note to myself – It’s about jobs, stupid! Jobs, jobs and more jobs are going unfilled because Kentucky’s workforce does not match employers’ needs. This year, even more emphasis will be on close partnerships between local employers and the community colleges in their area. Our job of educating the workforce has become more important as employers in Kentucky and all around the U.S. seek highly-trained workers.

In Kentucky, we have thousands of people working in low wage jobs who need enhanced skills. We also have thousands who are unemployed. The new Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program provides a good opportunity for those folks, as well as recent high school graduates, to train quickly and improve their earning opportunities. In addition, we will continue our work with local employers to make sure our curriculum is aligned with the top five job sectors outlined in the scholarship program.

That doesn’t mean we’ll take our eyes off of transfer programs. The majority of our students still come to us for transfer. However, I believe 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. As Carville knew, it’s all about the economy. For the state’s economy to advance, we must do what we can to help employers. For us, it’s about educating people for jobs.

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Happy Holidays!

It’s that time of year. The time for decorating, shopping, baking, and of course, your Facebook year in review video! Like most people, I love this time of year. It’s a time for family and faith traditions, childhood memories and the joy of giving. Along with all of this, the approaching new year usually makes us feel optimistic. I have to tell you, I am optimistic and excited about all the possibilities before us in 2017.

We can be proud of all we accomplished as a system and at each of our colleges in 2016. It’s a privilege to help thousands of students take the next step to a better life and fulfilling career. Many thanks to all of our faculty and staff for their dedication to our students.

As always, we’ll be focused in 2017 on student access and success. Our nation’s community colleges were founded on the concept of social justice and providing all Americans an affordable and accessible education. Since 2000, KCTCS has served nearly 835,000 Kentuckians. It’s our mission, and we all embrace it.

As we prepare for our end of year closing, I wish everyone a happy holiday season and joyous new year filled with great things!

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Let’s Slow Down and Give Thanks

Although retailers like to go straight from Halloween to Christmas, I think it’s important that we don’t lose Thanksgiving along the way. This holiday has a long tradition of family meals and family time that are too important to forget about or rush through.

This year especially, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on all we have to be thankful for. The tumultuous election season has taken a toll on everyone. Whether you’re happy or angry about the outcome, it’s important not to lose sight of the many blessings we have as Americans. Because of those who came before us, we have the right to vote, the right to free speech and many other rights we sometimes take for granted.

We also sometimes take our loved ones for granted. Let’s slow down our busy lives long enough to relax and enjoy our family and friends. If you’re like me, you never seem to have enough time to do that, and there’s no better way to reconnect than over a nice Thanksgiving meal.

At this time of Thanksgiving, I also want everyone to know I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with such a professional group of people, many of whom I’m proud to call friends. I’m also thankful for thousands of students across the Commonwealth who’ve chosen to make a KCTCS college a part of their lives.

So let’s not allow the retailers of the world to tell us what season it is. Go ahead and proudly put that inflatable turkey in your yard. You can easily switch it out for Santa in a few days.

Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

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