Thank You for Being a Champion

Now that we’ve reached the end of the legislative session, it’s time to say “Thanks!” to the thousands of Champions, especially our Business Champions, for answering the call to participate in our Fuel the Force campaign. Although we are still awaiting the final budget, I want to assure you your efforts helped to make a real difference.

KCTCS is the Commonwealth’s institution. It belongs to our students, faculty, staff, business and industry leaders, community members, officials and policymakers. With that in mind, we took a different approach to advocacy efforts. In my opinion, a message is stronger when it comes from those who do not have to speak for us, but choose to speak for us, on their own time and in their own way. Your visits, phone calls, letters, emails and social media posts have demonstrated how important KCTCS and your local college are to you, your workforce and your community. At one point in the campaign, nearly 8,500 of you contacted legislators on behalf of KCTCS. This is a phenomenal response, and I thank you for it.

Because of your advocacy efforts, stakeholders and policymakers across Kentucky now have a better understanding of how KCTCS fuels Kentucky’s workforce. I sincerely hope that this understanding will be reflected in the budget. As we’ve said from the beginning, an investment in KCTCS is an investment in Kentucky jobs.

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Heading for the Finish Line

Our 16 colleges have just finished spring break, which gives faculty, staff and students time to relax and recharge before the end of the semester rush. Completing the spring semester brings a great feeling of completion and celebration, but we’re not there yet.

These next few weeks are stressful for students as they finish up their classwork and study for finals. Even though it’s a hectic time for faculty and staff as well, our job is to help students get through it and accomplish their goals.

One of the greatest rewards for us is to see our students complete their programs and graduate. And what a feeling of accomplishment for them! Some of them weren’t sure they could do the work, but our faculty and staff were there cheering them on and helping get them to this point. Now, we have to help them get over the finish line.

During the next few weeks, our faculty and staff will increase their roles as cheerleaders, coaches, counselors and mentors. When students get down and think they can’t finish, we will remind them why they’re here and that their sacrifices are worth it.

I talk a great deal about the Kentucky Dream of improving lives through education that leads to good jobs. For our students to live this dream, we must continue to be their dream catchers. Let’s make sure our students make it across the finish line and celebrate their win!

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Bachelor’s Degree NOT Required

There’s been a great deal of media coverage about the high cost of a bachelor’s degree, the staggering amounts of student loan debt and how some graduates end up in jobs with low salaries that make them question if college was worth it. Many people believe you must have at least a bachelor’s degree to get a good job in today’s market, but that’s not always true. There are many good jobs that require only a certificate, diploma or associate degree.

For example, jobs in advanced manufacturing are available in many parts of the state. Employers are scouring the state to find trained employees who are ready, willing and able to work in high tech, clean manufacturing facilities. In those jobs, workers are earning $50,000 or more depending on the company and type of work they do. Ever thought about being a lineman? You could make nearly $60,000. Or how about an aircraft mechanic? Those jobs can pay more than $75,000 a year.

Additionally, the health care field is ripe with opportunities. Did you know the average wage for dental hygienists is more than $56,000? And registered nurses can make even more.

You can also make a good wage in skilled trades jobs like plumbing, carpentry and HVAC as well as in fields such as computer information technology, physical therapy assisting, respiratory therapy and many others.

The 16 colleges of KCTCS offer the best deal going with the lowest tuition in the state and some of the fastest ways to get to work or get ahead at the job you already have. The other plus is that our colleges offer programs tailored to business and industry in each community, so you are preparing for jobs close to home.

Yes, a bachelor’s degree is important in some fields, but you don’t have to get a four-year degree or have massive student loan debt to get a good education and a good job. Sometimes, bachelor’s degrees are not required.

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KCTCS is Ready for the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship

There was a lot of media coverage and social media buzz last week after the press conference announcing the filing of a new piece of legislation to provide free community college to Kentucky high school students. House Bill 626, also known as the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship, would provide free tuition to attend KCTCS for qualified students who graduate from a Kentucky high school or earn a GED by age 19. The bill is similar to what was passed in Tennessee, called the Tennessee Promise, which received wide bipartisan support after the state’s Republican governor proposed it.

This a last dollar program, which means students would receive the scholarship only after other scholarships and grants are factored in. We know there are several thousand Kentucky high school students who still feel like higher education is out of reach. Work Ready Kentucky would help eliminate financial barriers for many struggling middle class families. Those who have the most need would continue to receive a free education through Pell Grants and other financial aid. The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program would be administered by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA).

Our four-year partners will benefit from this as well because it will provide a new stream of transfer students who may not have planned to attend college. This scholarship program is an investment in Kentucky and Kentuckians. It also will help fulfill the Governor’s vision of creating a skilled workforce that will make the Commonwealth a destination for new and expanding businesses.

As exciting as this program is, I want to be clear that our Fuel the Force campaign is just as important as it was before this scholarship announcement. KCTCS has only two sources of revenue, tuition and state appropriations. Although this scholarship program is great news for high school students, and may increase our enrollment, it will not offset the $17 million state appropriation reduction that we’re facing if the Governor’s proposed budget plan is enacted.

It’s still important for you to become a champion for KCTCS and contact legislators to ask them not to cut our state appropriation. Many thanks to all who have done that. For those who haven’t, there’s still time. I ask for your continued support as we work through the remaining weeks of this legislative session. I’ll keep you updated about HB 626 and any other legislation that affects KCTCS.

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KCTCS at the National Forefront of Credentials Awarded

As we fight against state appropriation cuts another report citing KCTCS as a national leader in awarding credentials offers additional proof of why we need more funding, not less.

The Council on Postsecondary Education issued the “Kentucky Completion Report” showing growth at KCTCS, four-year and independent institutions ranked eighth in the nation. The largest 10-year growth was in undergraduate workforce certificates, which increased by more than 12,000 awards between 2004-05 and 2013-14. The greatest growth was in workforce trades, up 111 percent; health, up 85 percent; and STEM, up 51 percent. There also was a 52 percent increase in the number of associate degrees awarded.

This is exactly the direction we need to be headed, and it’s proof positive that we are fulfilling our mission to improve the lives and employability of people throughout the Commonwealth. To continue along this path and grow our credential awards even more, we have to be able to meet the needs of our students and our state’s businesses.

Our students come to us to help them achieve their dreams. To do this, we must have the resources to provide the type of education they seek and the type of training today’s employers so desperately need. While we’re overjoyed with CPE’s report, we know our ability to repeat it is in jeopardy.

Please join the fight to keep our budget whole by signing our Fuel the Force petition and letting your legislators know it’s imperative for the future of KCTCS and Kentucky’s economy to fund higher ed.

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Making Our Voices Heard in Frankfort

February 18 was an important day for KCTCS. That morning I testified, along with several university presidents, before the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education about the impact the proposed cuts to our state appropriation will have on our system. This was a good opportunity for me to tell our story and try to convince the committee members not to cut our state appropriation yet again.

You may have seen some of the media coverage that talked about the alarming statistics I shared and how devastating these cuts will be to our colleges and their ability to meet the needs of students and businesses.

Then at 12:30, our Business Champions let their voices be heard in a rally at the Capitol Rotunda. Gov. Matt Bevin and Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton were briefly in attendance, and the governor signed a proclamation proclaiming February 18 as KCTCS Day. Our three KCTCS Business Champions Council chairs spoke to a packed Rotunda of more than 200 people about why KCTCS colleges are so important to them and the communities they serve. They spoke with fervor and conviction, and it was clear they truly are Champions for KCTCS! Although the governor and lieutenant governor had to leave before the remarks began, I think everyone in the Capitol that day heard our voices.

There was a great turn out and support from all of our colleges. Everywhere I looked, I saw our folks proudly wearing their Fuel the Force buttons and shuttling from meeting to meeting with legislators. Every meeting, every phone call and every email count, and I’m very appreciative of all the hard work everyone is doing.

We’re only at the halfway point of the legislative session, so there’s still plenty of time to help. If you haven’t yet signed the petition to become a champion for KCTCS, please do. If you have, the next step is to contact your legislators because the budget is now in their hands. To send your elected officials the message that an investment in KCTCS is an investment in Kentucky jobs, click here.

I cannot stress enough the severe impact these proposed cuts will have on KCTCS and on businesses throughout our state if we can’t continue to fuel the workforce in a meaningful way. Please get involved and help us Fuel the Force!

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Looking at the Past to Create a Better Future

February is a busy month with Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, Heart Month and Presidents’ Day. Here at KCTCS, we’re also getting ready for our sixth annual Super Sunday, a recruitment event to promote higher education for African-American and Latino students. This year, Super Sunday is February 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.

We believe college should be affordable and accessible to all and that’s one reason our Super Sunday message is “Yes You Can!” Since the program began, we’ve partnered with nearly 200 churches and reached approximately 42,000 participants through our Super Sunday events. We’ve also seen a 14 percent increase in our enrollment of students who self-identify as under-represented populations.

We are not the first to be concerned about the access to higher ed for people of color. The man who is known as the Father of Black History, Carter G. Woodson, believed education was the key to becoming a productive citizen. Although his formal education was put on a back burner temporarily while he worked to help his family, he eventually studied abroad and earned a Ph.D. from Harvard. He was one of the first African-Americans to do so. Woodson also has ties to Kentucky. He earned his bachelor’s degree in literature from Berea College.

An author of numerous books, one of his most famous works is the Mis-Education of the Negro, which was published in 1933. His belief was that young Black people were being culturally indoctrinated, not taught the real contributions and achievements of Blacks.

Because of his work to encourage the study of African-American history, Negro History Week was born in February 1926 and is now a month long celebration we call Black History Month. Woodson said he chose February for the weeklong celebration to honor the birth months of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.

Now many years later, we continue a portion of Woodson’s work through Super Sunday. Our goal is to show students how they can achieve a college education and to highlight the role of parental involvement as well as the importance of early preparation in creating successful entry to college. You can learn more about Super Sunday, including locations and times in your area by visiting

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Winter Weather Creates Challenges

Here we are in the middle of another cold, snowy Kentucky winter. Of course, this means closings and delays at our colleges. I understand it’s frustrating to wait on pins and needles to learn how the day will unfold based on someone else’s decision. Fortunately, last week, we had plenty of notice of the impending snow storm and were able to make announcements much sooner. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the case.

Many times, the decision to close or delay the opening of a college comes in the wee hours of the morning, and I’m sorry it happens that way. But college presidents and others who are involved in these decisions are using the best information they have at the time from the National Weather Service and others. Let me assure you that these decisions are carefully considered and made purely with the safety of our students, faculty and staff in mind.

As you know, SNAP messages are the best way to keep up with college closings and delays. You also will find information on social media and your college website. This is a tough time of year, but we’ll all get through it together. In the meantime, here’s something to look forward to: only 53 days until spring!

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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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