Embracing Unity and Opportunity

Yesterday I was humbled to participate in the 22nd annual Unity Breakfast honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., sponsored by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and the Alpha Beta Lambda Chapter Education Foundation. This event is widely attended by people in central Kentucky and is followed by a march through downtown Lexington.

When I think back on all Dr. King accomplished in his short life, I believe he was wise beyond his years because his vision was so clear. Dr. King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” That was true 50 years ago and it’s still true today.

In today’s politically correct world, however, I’m concerned that some people may feel it’s inappropriate to speak out about social injustice and inequality. But in his quest for unity, Dr. King also said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” So don’t stand by and wait for someone else to do the right thing.

Dr. King was passionate about education and the need for opportunities for all. That’s why his birthday also is when KCTCS kicks off its sixth annual Super Sunday, a recruitment event to promote higher education for African-American and Latino students. This year, Super Sunday is Feb. 28 at African-American and Latino churches around the state and will include college fairs to provide information on admissions, degree programs, financial aid, transfer opportunities and more. I invite you to attend a Super Sunday event in your area.

Through Super Sunday, KCTCS has increased outreach to prospective students who often are not part of the higher education conversation. And it’s working. From fall 2011 to fall 2014, we saw a 14 percent increase in our enrollment of students who self-identify as under-represented populations.

But we have much more work to do. If you’re a KCTCS faculty or staff member, I hope you’ll consider participating in this year’s event at a church near you. Let’s keep Dr. King’s dream alive to make sure all people have the opportunity to improve their lives and their communities.

 

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Sticking to New Year’s Resolutions

Did you make a New Year’s resolution? A news story this week said only eight percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually keep them. If you’ve ever joined a gym in January, you’re well aware that by March there are plenty of parking spaces.

January is also the start of our new spring semester, which sometimes can be challenging because of treacherous weather and illness in January and February. Whether you’re a returning student or just beginning your higher education journey, I hope you’ll make a resolution that nothing will stand in the way of completing your semester and your program.

It’s easy to say what you’re going to do, but just like with exercise and healthy eating, there are many temptations that can derail your best intentions. You’ve already navigated registering, scheduling classes and shuffling through all the financial aid forms, so now you’re ready for the fun and interesting part of college. If at some point in the semester you feel overwhelmed, look for a study pal or a mentor. Getting involved with a campus organization or project also can make your college experience more fun.

You know you’ve made the right decision to attend college. A college credential opens the door to a lifetime of higher wages and a better life for you and your family. Finishing college is a resolution you need to keep. Be part of the eight percent!

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Reflections on 2015

Last December I was honored and humbled to be selected as the second president of KCTCS. My first year has been a whirlwind. I’ve traveled to all the colleges at least twice. I’ve met with students, faculty, staff, board members, community and business leaders and legislators. I’ve talked, I’ve listened and I’ve learned.

My first round of visits was to gather information and ideas about what communities and the state need KCTCS to be in the next six years. Based on that input, we’ve begun developing a new strategic plan that will be coordinated with several state organizations and agencies so that we have a Kentucky vision for education and economic growth. That’s a first for our state.

Another first was a record number of associate degrees awarded. Even though enrollment and unemployment were down, we awarded the most associate degrees in the history of our system. This is a positive step toward changing the dismal education levels and poverty in Kentucky.

A few more accomplishments we achieved this year:

  • Freezing tuition to keep college as affordable as possible for our students.
  • Our involvement in Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR), particularly the integral role we’re playing in Kentucky Wired.
  • Another successful supplier diversity fair that brought vendors from Kentucky and six other states to meet with project managers from KCTCS and other institutions.
  • Another successful Super Sunday and Transfer Madness online recruitment fair.
  • Hiring exemplary new presidents at Big Sandy Community and Technical College, Owensboro Community and Technical College and Jefferson Community and Technical College.

The year has not been without its challenges. Our budget situation meant we had to make tough choices. And we are facing even more tough times if we don’t get additional funding from the state. I’ve worked with the four-year institutions and the Council on Postsecondary Education to develop a recommendation that restores half the state funding we’ve all lost since 2008. Even though this is desperately needed, we know it will be a challenge because the state faces issues with pensions and Medicaid. You can help by visiting FueltheForceKy and signing up to be a Champion for KCTCS.

At this time of year, I think many of us reflect on our year and begin to prepare for the New Year. Looking back and learning from what’s worked and what hasn’t is important because it helps us keep moving forward and progressing. I know none of our success happens without the commitment and dedication of our faculty and staff. I appreciate all of you more than I can ever say and am grateful for your service to KCTCS.

I look forward to our continued progress and making 2016 even better than 2015!

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Good News from the KCTCS Board Meeting

It’s always nice to report good news so I want to share a little with you. At the KCTCS Board of Regents meeting last week, we announced a record number of associate degrees were awarded during the 2014-15 academic year. With our enrollment down, this record of 9,632 degrees is especially significant.

The other good news deals with our audit. The board received positive results from an annual independent financial audit for fiscal year 2014-15. The opinion issued by Dean Dorton Allen Ford, PSC, was the highest opinion offered by public accounting firms. Even though we have budget constraints due to state funding cuts and decreased enrollment, this audit shows we are good stewards of our money.

Last, but certainly not least, the Board welcomed two new members representing faculty and staff. Congratulations to Tammy Thompson, PR coordinator at WKCTC, and Mark Wells, business administration professor at BSCTC. I look forward to your input and feedback at upcoming meetings.

I know all of this good news could not have happened without our dedicated faculty and staff. Thanks to everyone for all the hard work you do on behalf of KCTCS.

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During the Season of Giving, I’m Thankful for Our Donors

We’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving, shopped till we dropped on Black Friday, scoured the web for Cyber Monday bargains, and finally, gave back on Giving Tuesday, which kicks off the season of giving.

Recently, KCTCS had the opportunity to thank those who have donated to us with the Celebration of Philanthropy Awards Dinner in Lexington. We honored 34 of the state’s leading individuals, businesses and foundations for their generous support to our colleges and the system as a whole. The event drew 600 folks from all over the state.

We owe these benefactors a great deal of gratitude. Their endowments and other gifts provide the opportunity for many of our students to attend college. We can never adequately thank them for all they’ve done for us and for all the lives they’ve helped change.

A one-night celebration hardly seems worthy of all they do for us. So, during this season of giving, I want to again publicly thank all of those who donated to our colleges. We appreciate your gifts more than we can ever say and are humbled by your support.

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Thanksgiving Memories

If you’re like me Thanksgiving brings back memories of those family celebrations we had as children. I remember anxiously awaiting the big Thanksgiving meal and all those wonderful aromas wafting through the house while the meal was being prepared. My brothers and I bugging our mom by asking: “How much longer?”

Then we gathered around the table waiting for the OK to dig in, and boy, did we ever! We all had heaping plates of food followed by mouthwatering desserts. It was a great day spent with family that I’ll always remember fondly.

As we look forward to this Thanksgiving, I’d like to say how thankful I am for all the blessings in my life. In addition to my family, friends and church family, I’m so very thankful that I can come to work each day and spend time with such a great group of folks. Thank you for all you do for KCTCS and our students.

I’m also thankful for the thousands of students across the Commonwealth who’ve chosen to further their education at KCTCS. I’m hopeful their time with us will lead them to the places they’ve dreamed of.

In just a few days, we’ll be gathered around the table again to enjoy great food and give thanks. Even though it’s different than when we were kids, I hope you have a great day and make memories that you will recall for years to come.

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Celebrating the Higher Education Act of 1965

If you’re a student who receives federal financial aid, you can thank the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA). This is the 50-year anniversary of the law, which was created to strengthen the educational resources of America’s colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance to post-secondary students. The HEA was part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society domestic agenda.

The law has been amended over the years, but the basic premise of helping more students attend college hasn’t. The price of going to college has continued to increase, and if it weren’t for federal financial aid, 90 percent of our students might not be able to attend.

Our nation’s community colleges were founded on the concept of social justice and providing all Americans, particularly those economically and socially disadvantaged, an affordable and accessible education. Over the years the poor, working-class, and under-represented populations have enjoyed increased access to post-secondary education, largely through the doors of community and technical colleges.

Our charge by the Kentucky Legislature when it created KCTCS back in 1997 was to improve the quality of life and employability of Kentuckians. Since that time, our open access system of 16 colleges with more than 70 locations has provided the opportunity for people to get a good education while staying close to home. The HEA has played a large role in that by helping us positively affect the lives of thousands of Kentuckians. That’s something to celebrate!

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Fuel the Force

During the recession, higher ed funding was chopped from state budgets all around the country. But, while other states have begun restoring those funds, Kentucky has not. It’s so dire that Kentucky now ranks next to last among state post-secondary appropriations.

We know post-secondary education is the answer to many of Kentucky’s challenges. But preparing students for high paying jobs has become increasingly difficult for our colleges because our state funding has been dwindling for years. Since 2008, our budget has decreased by $38.5 million. At the same time, our fixed costs have risen at about the same amount.

In the last year, we’ve had to do a great deal of belt tightening, by reducing positions across the System and cutting expenses everywhere we could. We have done our part to be as lean as we can, and we’ve held the line on tuition for our students by freezing it this year.

Now, it’s time for us to get a little help from the state. Last week, Kentucky elected a new governor and other office holders. Our advocacy team, community business leaders and I will reach out to them and state legislators as we get closer to the General Assembly session in January to plead our case for restoration of half of what we’ve lost over the last several years.

We want them to recognize that community colleges are the primary engine that fuels the workforce across the state. But because of our consistent budget cuts, we’re running low on fuel and it is time to fill the tank. If our state is to move ahead and be globally competitive, we must have a strong workforce and to do that, the legislature must invest in Kentucky by investing in KCTCS.

To learn more about the Fuel the Force campaign and become a champion for KCTCS, visit our website.

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Be Aware. Be Prepared.

This week, all KCTCS colleges and the System Office will be focused on crisis communication because the college presidents and I want to make sure we are ready if an emergency occurs. Although campus shootings have been in the news recently, there are many other types of emergencies we could face, such as severe weather, flooding and fires.

That’s why we will be testing our SNAP emergency alert systems and our crisis communication website procedures that go into action during an emergency. We also have updated our websites with detailed information about how to respond during a crisis, and we’ll be sending out safety tips each day via social media.

This communication blitz is important and shouldn’t be taken lightly. During emergencies, people panic, and if they aren’t prepared, may make a precarious situation worse. It’s essential that we all know how to react in various types of emergencies.

After every crisis that’s been in the news, one thing that’s been discussed is some people didn’t know what to do. I’m reminded of the brave mother and daughter in Oregon during the shootings at Umpqua Community College. The daughter wasn’t sure what to do, so she called her mother, who was a calm voice giving her direction on how to stay safe.

Everyone might not be as fortunate as that young woman who was able to call someone on the outside for help. So, make sure you know what to do. Personal safety on our campuses is priority number one. Please stay alert and report anything suspicious to your campus security or call 911.

Be aware. Be prepared.

 

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Heads Up: Let’s Talk about America’s College Promise

It’s no secret that today’s jobs require some type of college credential and that those without it will be paid less. Even though financial aid is widely available, many still see the cost of college as prohibitive. Horror stories about student loan debt continue to lead the news. All of these circumstances have created a need for America to find a better way to educate its citizens when it comes to higher ed.

In January, President Obama introduced the America’s College Promise proposal to make two years of community college free, allowing students to earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree and earn skills needed in the workforce at no cost. But this doesn’t mean students have no responsibility. They must earn good grades and stay on track to graduate or complete an occupational program.

This week, community colleges around the nation are participating in the President’s Heads Up campaign to draw attention to the need for free college for the first two years. As an open access institution, KCTCS would be able to offer even more Kentuckians the opportunity to earn a life-changing higher education credential under America’s College Promise. We are focused on student success, so this additional support removes any financial barriers that may be keeping some students from beginning college or completing their programs.

Although the idea of free college sounds radical, it’s really not. You may not know that high school has not always been free. Nearly a century ago, the movement to make high school education available to everyone helped lead to greater educational attainment for many Americans. Because high school was available to all, our workforce was one of the best educated in the world. Unfortunately, because of changes in the world, and in the world of work, we have seen others surpass us. It’s time to refocus.

KCTCS enrolls nearly half of all undergraduates in Kentucky. This proposal would surely increase those numbers, which means a better educated workforce for the state’s employers and higher wages for our students. This is important because Kentucky remains a state characterized by low educational attainment, workforce participation, earnings and high poverty rates.

Our state ranks near the bottom in the number of skilled workers needed to support manufacturing and the Commonwealth’s other targeted industry sectors. Many unemployed or underemployed Kentuckians need to return to college for the credentials needed to increase their wages. Making a free education available to these prospective nontraditional students in their communities would create more opportunities for them and local employers.

Take a minute to learn more about America’s College Promise and make your voice heard by visiting Heads Up America.

 

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