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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Celebrating Todays Manufacturing Careers: It’s Not Your Grandfather’s Factory Job

This month, the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers (KAM) is celebrating Manufacturing Month, so it’s a good time to talk about what’s happening in manufacturing. It’s no secret we have a great partnership with the state’s manufacturers. This partnership is really very simple: Manufacturers need skilled workers, and we want to supply them. Together, this partnership is helping Kentuckians earn a good living, helping employers hire the right workers and helping the state’s economy grow.

An important point our students and prospective students need to understand is today’s manufacturing is not your grandfather’s, or even your father’s, manufacturing. Factories today are bright, clean and technologically advanced. They are full of people who’ve earned college credentials, because that’s what today’s jobs require.

In Kentucky, more than 213,000 employees are working in manufacturing, and many of these companies have jobs available for people with the right training and skills. A challenge businesses are facing, however, is that there aren’t enough qualified workers in Kentucky.

And here’s something else our students should know. There are going to be even more jobs available in manufacturing. A recent national report shows that American manufacturers could need as many as two million workers over the next 10 years. There are two main reasons for this. First, there’s been a rebirth of manufacturing so the industry is expanding. Second, is the retirement of the Baby Boomers.

Manufacturing jobs pay well for those who meet the qualifications. Just two years ago, a survey by the National Association of Manufacturers showed the average manufacturing worker earned $77,506 in total pay and benefits. That’s more than some grads from four-year universities will earn.

Many of our students enter college without having chosen a major. If you’re one of them, Manufacturing Month is a good time to look into whether a career in manufacturing is right for you. All of our colleges have excellent programs for those who want to earn an associate degree, certificates or diplomas. Some colleges are having open houses this month to celebrate Manufacturing Month.

If you think a manufacturing job sounds like something you’d like, talk to an advisor and see what these careers can offer you. Before you know it, you’ll be earning a good salary in a fast growing field.

 

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Umpqua Community College Tragedy Keeps Security Top of Mind

The last few weeks have been difficult for colleges in this country. The terrible tragedy at Umpqua Community College followed by another shooting incident at Northern Arizona University remind us of the reality of the world in which we live. We even had an incident at Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC) on Friday which, thankfully, proved to be false. I am so proud of the quick and professional response by both the college staff and Louisville Metropolitan Police. All of the crisis management training JCTC had put in place and practiced fell into place.

I know the recent incidents may spark questions or concerns about the safety of all of our campuses. Please know that our number one priority is the safety of our students, faculty and staff. Our campus security and crisis management teams regularly test and evaluate our procedures for all types of emergencies. We are committed to providing a safe learning and working environment for all who enter our campuses. That is why during the next month we will be launching a crisis management communications campaign designed to inform students, faculty and staff of what to do in case of an emergency.

On Thursday every single college within KCTCS participated in a National Moment of Silence to honor the victims of Umpqua Community College. The Dalai Lama once said, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength. No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” I ask everyone to continue to send Umpqua Community College a message of hope and strength as they work to overcome this terrible tragedy.

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Kentucky Adult Education Week Reminds Us of Our Mission

When KCTCS was created in 1997, our mission was clear: to improve the quality of life and employability of Kentuckians. As we celebrate Kentucky Adult Education Week, it’s a good time to reach out to the thousands of Kentuckians who still lack the credentials they need to get high paying jobs. We also can help those without a high school diploma take that first step by earning a GED through our partnership with Kentucky Adult Education.

Our Accelerating Opportunity program also offers a terrific way for students to earn a GED and college credit toward a diploma or certificate in some programs. We’ve seen this successful model, which provides two instructors in the classroom, a success coach and a career coach, work for many of our students over the last several years. They can quickly earn a credential that leads to a good career, and some have continued on to earn an associate degree.

For low-income parents who want to earn a college credential or GED, we have Ready to Work/Work and Learn programs. These programs offer many of things returning students need, such as counseling, mentoring and job readiness. Students in these programs also may be eligible for work study programs. Additionally, our talented staff who work in these programs will soon be receiving a statewide award for their collaboration with the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence for an economic empowerment services program. The program addresses non-academic issues like poverty, domestic violence and transportation that prevent students from completing a degree.

These non-academic issues along with the lack of self-confidence are what hold some people back from entering college. When students realize they can do this, they want to keep learning. We’ve all heard that knowledge is power, and there’s nothing more powerful than the feeling that you’ve accomplished something you never dreamed you could. What I most want people to know is that you can do it, you haven’t been out of school too long and you’re not too old.

Whether you’ve been out of high school for many years or just a short time, we have a place for you. Come in and talk to our advisors and see what your options are. You might be surprised by all the opportunity you have. You also might be surprised to see that many of our students are just like you.

This week, most of our colleges are having special events that include free food and prizes. They’re out there just waiting for the opportunity to talk to you and help you take that first step toward a better life. Be brave and take that step. A better future is waiting.

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It’s Time to Stop Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

Today I participated in two press conferences to kick-off of Verizon’s HopeLine drive to collect old cell phones and accessories to raise money for and awareness of domestic violence prevention. KCTCS is one of several partners participating throughout the state. All 16 colleges and the System Office will have collection boxes, and our drive will start October 12. Even though that’s still a month away, I want to focus on why this project is so important, and why I hope everyone in the KCTCS family will get involved.

Our job is to make sure that every student attending our colleges feels safe, valued and welcome. KCTCS has no tolerance for domestic violence or any other type of assault, abuse and bullying. That’s one reason why Verizon’s HopeLine drive is so important to me and to our students. It’s why we’ve collaborated with the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence (KCADV) in the past.

It’s also why we’re rolling out the national “It’s on Us” campaign to provide training to all students, faculty and staff on sexual assault awareness and prevention. That training is now available to all employees and will be available to students in October.

I believe the HopeLine drive and “It’s on Us” training will serve as catalysts to stimulate discussion and help people speak more freely about these important issues. I’m also hopeful that it will help create an atmosphere of support for victims to come forward and ask for help.

Collection boxes will be set up at every college location as well as the System Office. It’s easy to participate. Just bring in your old cell phones, batteries, chargers and other accessories and drop them in the box. Verizon turns them into cash grants and other support for domestic violence awareness and prevention organizations, like KCADV. Verizon also donates new wireless phones through the HopeLine program, complete with service and data, to domestic violence shelters and non-profit organizations for use by survivors.

We know that in 2013, 3,500 Kentuckians spent at least one night in a domestic violence shelter and that 68 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. We need to change that. Participating in the HopeLine drive and completing “It’s on Us” training are good first steps. So look for posters around campus announcing where collection boxes are placed and drop in your old phones. Sign up for and complete “It’s on Us” training. Let’s all do our part to stop domestic violence and sexual assault.

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KCTCS Playing Important Role in Kentucky Wired

Monday, I was one of several hundred people from throughout the state who attended the Kentucky Wired press conference at Hazard Community and Technical College. The room was electric! I don’t know when I’ve seen so many people excited about a new venture for our state.

Although the project, which will expand broadband access and speed, begins in eastern Kentucky, it will expand throughout the state. KCTCS will play an integral role in Kentucky Wired.

Many of our colleges, including five in eastern Kentucky’s Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) area, have been designated community anchor institutions and will serve as distribution hubs for connectivity with new buildings built on their campuses to house fiber optic cable.

The SOAR colleges – Ashland Community and Technical College, Big Sandy Community and Technical College, Hazard Community and Technical College, Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College and Somerset Community College – will offer new classes in coding and other technology skills as well as classes in fiber optics. Skilled workers who can install fiber optic cable will be in demand during the construction phase of Kentucky Wired.

Kentucky is at the bottom of the list nationally when it comes to broadband accessibility and speed, but will become one of the top in the nation when the Kentucky Wired project is complete. This not only means greater access and speed for individuals and existing organizations, but also makes Kentucky’s costs competitive so the region and the state are more attractive to new businesses.

As one of the speakers at the press event said, good broadband is as essential to communities as our utilities are. Broadband access and speed are a given for the rest of the nation, so it’s past time for Kentucky to catch up. It looks like we’re on our way.

Many thanks to Dr. Greiner and everyone at HCTC who assisted with the press conference. Outstanding work!

Also, I want to say how impressed and grateful I am to Congressman Hal Rogers and Gov. Steve Beshear for moving this idea forward and making it a reality. They and the SOAR team are moving Kentucky in the right direction to make the whole state more appealing to new and existing businesses. And that means more jobs for our graduates.

 

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Be Smart About Financial Aid

At the beginning of each academic year, I hear negative messages in the media about the high cost of higher education and massive student loan debt. This frustrates me because it makes people feel that maybe college is the not the right choice for them. But college affordability doesn’t have to be a barrier, and for most KCTCS students, it isn’t. That’s the message I want Kentuckians to hear.

KCTCS offers the lowest tuition in Kentucky and is the only public higher ed institution that did not raise tuition this year. Still, the majority of our students receive some type of financial aid, which includes grants, scholarships, work study and loans.

Understanding financial aid can be confusing, even for people who are familiar with the system. For those going through this for the first time, you may have felt as if you were drowning in forms. I’m sure you had questions and concerns along the way, as most people do.

If you are getting a student loan, it’s important to borrow only what you need. One of the biggest mistakes students make is borrowing too much money. There will come a day when your loans must be repaid to the federal government. So the less you borrow, the smaller your payments and the shorter your payback schedule will be.

If somewhere along the way, it becomes hard to make payments, don’t ignore your loan obligation. The folks at the U.S. Department of Education who determine how much you can borrow will work with you to create a new, affordable plan. You might qualify for a deferment, which will postpone your payments for a brief time. Keep in mind that this option is a last resort because your interest continues to add up. That means you’ll end up paying back even more.

Some people disregard their financial aid obligations thinking it doesn’t matter, but they are dead wrong. If you chose not to repay your loans, your credit rating is affected. Filing bankruptcy doesn’t get rid of the debt either.

Understanding your options and being smart about financial aid is important. It’s a fact of life for most students, but how you handle it can make a world of difference in your future ability to get a car loan, get a credit card, rent an apartment or even buy a home.

Learn as much as you can from the KCTCS website pages on financial aid as well as the federal financial aid website and by visiting your college financial aid office. I know financial aid can be frustrating, but hang there and see it through. Your education is worth it!

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Student Leaders have an Edge with Employers

Last week, I enjoyed spending time with the Student Government Association (SGA) presidents from all the colleges when they met at the System Office. Members of SGA are the voice of the student body, and that is an important leadership role.

Leadership is a valuable skill, and employers are looking for graduates who can communicate well, manage their time effectively and take personal responsibility for their actions. Serving on SGA or as part of any campus group shows initiative and engagement, two things employers are seeking.

Being elected to SGA also makes some students eligible to serve on the KCTCS Board of Regents. Each year, SGA presidents elect two from their group to represent all students on the board. Imagine being part of the governing board that makes decisions about our colleges and getting to know business and community leaders from across the state who serve with you!

This year, SGA presidents elected Lacey Parham of Owensboro Community and Technical College and Venus Evans of Somerset Community College to serve one-year terms on the board. Congratulations to them and to all SGA members who’ve stepped up to lead.

SGA is just one of the many ways you can be involved in campus life. If you’re looking for a rich campus experience outside the classroom, there are numerous groups related to areas of interest or study like art, chess, the environment and theater. Student ambassadors are always in demand to assist with tours and events. There are intramural sports and campuswide cultural and social activities of all kinds throughout the year. Every college has a list of student activities on its website, so start there and see what interests you.

I’ve always felt your college experience is what you make it, so get involved in campus groups and activities. It helps you prepare for your upcoming career, and potential employers are looking at resumes to find students who know how to lead and how to work as part of a team. Take advantage of all your college has to offer. It pays off in many ways.

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Kentucky Chamber workforce report gets it right

Like many of you, I’ve just come back from my summer vacation. Taking some time away from work to spend with family is important to our health and well-being, so I hope you’ve had the opportunity to take some vacation time this summer.

When I returned, one of the first things I saw was a new report on workforce challenges from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. The report outlines the issues Kentucky faces because of a shortage of skilled workers, along with recommendations for businesses and policymakers to improve this. After reading the publication from cover to cover, I was encouraged to see the Kentucky Chamber is on board with many of the initiatives we are working on and plan to do.

With the improving economy, the demand for skilled workers is increasing. All across the state, I’m hearing that companies can’t find the right people to fill their openings. As the Chamber report says, we have “too many people without jobs and too many jobs without people.” This is causing frustration for employers and job seekers.

We are focused on doing our part to help change this through our occupational programs, Workforce Solutions program and other business partnerships. KCTCS is the largest provider of postsecondary education, online education and workforce training in the state, serving more than 5,500 businesses and training nearly 50,000 workers annually.

Think of what that means for our state, not just the overall economy, but also for individual families. The work we do makes a difference in people’s lives. Sometimes, I think we lose sight of that. As the summer winds down and we look toward the fall semester, keep in mind the larger picture. We’re not just here to teach a class or help a student enroll. We’re helping people find jobs and jobs find people.

I look forward to working closely with the Kentucky Chamber and other statewide organizations as we collaborate on the best ways to move Kentucky forward, bring in more business and make sure our graduates are prepared for the right jobs.

 

 

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Kentucky Fire Commission works to keep Kentuckians safe

The July 4th holiday always means great food and spending time with family and friends. For the last few weeks, I’ve been seeing the perennial fireworks tents popping up on every corner. Although fireworks are great, when I see the tents they make me think about the Kentucky Fire Commission and the many roles the Commission plays when it comes to safety.

You may not know that our Fire Commission trains 80 percent of the firefighters trained in Kentucky, and in the last five years, that number has grown to 90 percent. The Kentucky Fire Commission has provided standardized education, training and certification programs to volunteer and professional firefighters since 1972. And, they just wrapped up the 86th Annual State Fire School in Lexington, which offered 46 classes to more than 760 students.

Fire safety education is one of the Fire Commission’s top priorities, and during the July 4th holiday staying safe while grilling, using camp stoves or enjoying fireworks should be top of mind. It’s easy to get caught up in the fun and get a little lax about safety. Every year many people end up in emergency rooms because of cooking and fireworks’ accidents.

The Fire Commission says the safest way to enjoy fireworks is to attend one of the many public displays, but if you plan to purchase fireworks to use at home, here are some tips.

  • Purchase fireworks from an established, reputable dealer.
  • Follow the manufacturer directions.
  • Have water available for extinguishment of discarded fireworks or an emergency.
  • Place legally purchased fireworks on a flat surface, clear of combustible materials and clear of all buildings.
  • Light only one firework at a time.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
  • Keep bystanders at least 25 feet away from fireworks.
  • Do not permit young children to handle or ignite fireworks.
  • Store fireworks in a cool, dry place.
  • Remember to stop, drop and roll if your clothes catch on fire.

Many thanks to the Kentucky Fire Commission for the good work they do and for helping to keep us all safe during the July 4th holiday and every day. You can learn more from the Fire Commission later this summer during the Kentucky State Fair August 20-30.

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