Embracing New Frontiers

Graduation is a bittersweet time for students as they say goodbye to the many people they’ve come to know and admire at their college. It’s also an exciting time as they face the world to conquer new frontiers. They came to us wide-eyed, and sometimes apprehensive, and are leaving us as confident, educated community members. They came from all walks of life. They’ve overcome obstacles. Their goals and professions vary. Many are the first in their families to attend college. And now, they all share one distinct commonality – being called a college graduate.

Systemwide this spring we have 7,177 graduates who received nearly 14,000 credentials. I know it hasn’t been easy for some of them. That’s what makes graduation so rewarding for me and for the faculty and staff who work with our students. We know what it takes for them to complete their programs and how it affects their families who sacrifice right along with them. But in the end, it’s worth it for all of them. Whether these grads go on to a four-year university or straight to work, they are prepared to be successful and help lead their communities.

As our grads make their way in the world, I hope they’ll consider what new frontiers they want to explore. Although they’ve completed this part of their journey, it doesn’t mean the journey has ended.

There’s much more to learn and do. Dreams can change over time, so I charge our graduates to be open to new ideas and to realize this is an ongoing journey to success and prosperity.

Our mission at KCTCS is to improve the lives and employability of Kentuckians. We’ve just helped 7,177 more Kentuckians to do that. I wish each of them continued success and for the courage to forge their own new frontiers. Most importantly, I hope they’ll never stop learning.

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Listening Tour Concludes with System Office Sessions

Last Friday I spent several hours with small groups of System Office employees to get their thoughts on what KCTCS needs to be by 2022. For the first time, our strategic plan will include a plan for the System Office. As I discussed with the colleges, our plan is being developed differently this time because we are a more mature organization. That’s why I wanted to hear from everyone involved and build the plan from the bottom up instead of from the top down.

Some of the ideas I heard from the System Office folks reinforce this idea. They want to change the culture at the System Office so that the colleges see us as partners, not the place where they hear “No” or “You can’t do it that way.” When the system was new, a top down approach was needed to bring all the community colleges and technical schools together and create system-wide processes. But, we’re now 17 years into it, and System Office employees recognize the need for a more collaborative, team approach so we all can learn from each other. To do this, employees told me there should be better communication not only with the colleges, but also within the System Office. The staff also said the System Office should have a better customer service philosophy. Additionally, they told me we need to be more nimble and get decisions made quicker.

I heard that we need to stay on top on national trends and best practices. System Office staff said it’s important to make sure the education our students receive is the same quality at all colleges and that we need to stay attuned to the needs of the state’s employers.

Thanks so much to all who attended from the System Office and the colleges. I also appreciate those who’ve contacted me via email. We’ll now take all of this input and get rolling on the strategic plan. Remember, you can keep up with our progress through this blog or the website.

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Listening Tour Comes to an End

Last week, I made my final college visits on the Out of the Box Listening Tour at Southeast and Bluegrass, and what a great way to end my travels.

The drive to the Southeast campuses was just beautiful, and I enjoyed getting to meet so many of our students, faculty and staff. The faculty and staff told me they’d like to see Southeast offer more basic STEM research opportunities for our students as well as new and expanded allied health programs.

The students talked about several issues including better financial literacy, and suggested creating an awareness campaign to focus on it. They’d also like to see a career services and job placement center on campus.

In Middlesboro and Cumberland, board members and business and community leaders were focused on retraining coal miners for new jobs and making sure we are on top of the needs of employers in the region.

The final stop of the tour was close to home in Lexington at BCTC. I heard a lot of good discussion about the Newtown Campus and the eventual move from Cooper Drive. I had the opportunity to see the historic buildings from the old Eastern State Hospital, which are being repurposed at the Newtown Campus.

I heard the message loud and clear that this college needs more consistent branding and marketing to keep up with its neighbors from Transylvania University and UK as well as other four-years in the region.

I ended the day with a speed strategic planning session, where I met with six groups for ten minutes each as they shared what they would like to see for the future of BCTC.

Thanks so much to everyone at Southeast and Bluegrass for spending some time with me. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. This week, I’ll meet with my colleagues at the System Office to hear their dreams for our system. Then, the work begins of delving into all the notes from the tour and determining where the areas of greatest need and agreement lie. You can check the website for updates on the strategic planning process. I’ll also be updating you from time to time.

Thanks again to everyone at all 16 colleges for your input and hospitality. Working together, I believe we’ll create a strong strategic plan that aligns with our partners statewide for a Kentucky vision of what we want our economic outcomes to be.

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Listening Tour Headed Toward the Finish Line

Last week, I heard more great ideas when I traveled to Jefferson, Gateway and Elizabethtown.

Jefferson is the most diverse college within KCTCS, with the student body representing 85 nationalities. I met a student who is a testament to lifelong learning. At 73, she is still taking classes and has a career goal to work in education. With such a diverse group, making sure the college’s faculty/staff and services meet the needs of diverse audiences was a recurring theme during my visit.

During my meeting with the college and foundation board, a board member said, “We want to pull students to us instead of them being pushed to us.” I think this is an important point we can all get behind.

While at Jefferson’s Downtown Campus, I had a great time talking with students and playing a game of corn hole during the outdoor recruitment blitz.

The next day, I was northern bound to visit several Gateway campuses. While visiting the Urban Metro Campus, I met with our education partners, including local school superintendents and some of our four-year partners. They asked us to expand our partnerships and offer joint professional development with the four-years.

Students at the Edgewood Campus told me they were interested in becoming mentors and tutors for fellow students. Like Jefferson students, they also would like the college to better meet the needs of diverse students. Faculty and staff at the Boone Campus said they want Gateway to become a one-stop shop for lifelong learning.

My last stop for the week was at Elizabethtown (ECTC). There I heard ECTC needs to help students with life issues by connecting them to community resources. Also, faculty said because many students are not prepared for the rigors of college, ECTC should offer a first-year experience class.

Students suggested offering tours or information about the campus for current students and more internal communication about what’s happening on campus.

I finished my day at ECTC’s honors celebration. What a great event with a theater full of students and families celebrating academic achievement.

Thanks so much to everyone at Jefferson, Gateway and Elizabethtown for all your hard work and organization to make my visits so outstanding. This week, the tour is wrapping up. Monday, I visited Southeast and I’ll end the tour today at Bluegrass.

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Tour Rolls on to Western Kentucky

Last week, the Out of the Box Tour continued in the western part of the state with visits to three colleges – Madisonville, Hopkinsville and West Kentucky.

At Madisonville’s Muhlenberg campus, I heard how important private investment has been to this campus. A common theme throughout all our sessions at Madisonville was the importance of fostering entrepreneurship and building on the success of the Business Synergy Lab. Looking toward the future, nearly every group talked about the growing need for online education and balancing online and on-campus offerings.

My first stop on the Hopkinsville visit was Fort Campbell, and it was great to hear from some of our military men and women as well as the faculty and staff. By 2022, they want us to enhance the services we offer our veteran and active military students to help prepare them quickly for jobs when their military careers are complete. There also was discussion during this visit about the need for more allied health career programs.

The last leg of the tour was Paducah. West Kentucky’s Paducah school of Art and Design plays a significant role in the community and is aligned with its vision to create a strong arts community or “artforce.” The college also plays a large role in the local economy and is a central component of the area’s strategic and economic plan.

While at West Kentucky I also enjoyed hearing from students who told me they’d like to see more help with interview skills and job placement. It’s easy to see why West Kentucky has been a finalist for the Aspen Award three consecutive times. The dedication and pride the faculty, staff and students have for this college is beyond compare.

Thanks so much to everyone at these three colleges who planned or participated in my visit. I had a wonderful time and appreciate your hard work and hospitality. This week, I’ll be visiting Jefferson, Gateway and Elizabethtown. I look forward to hearing more great ideas and talking with folks in each community.


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April is Community College Month

As many people know, community colleges are close to my heart, so national Community College Month is the perfect time for me to share the reasons why. Number one on my list is the opportunity community colleges offer people of all ages. As open access institutions, our colleges provide the opportunity for a better life, to be the first in a family to earn a postsecondary credential, to quickly train for a better job and to earn an associate degree before transferring to a four-year institution.

Community colleges have changed tremendously since the early days of junior college and vocational school. Today’s community colleges offer endless opportunities for students to do whatever they dream about. You may be surprised to know that since KCTCS was established, we have served 750,000 Kentuckians. In fall 2013 alone more than 12 million Americans chose to attend a community college. In fact, nearly half of all Kentucky undergraduates attend one of our 16 colleges, and 43 percent who earned bachelor’s degrees began at a community college.

One of the biggest reasons for attending community college is affordability. Like most of our students and their families, affordability was an issue for my family, too. My parents wanted my brothers and me to earn a college degree, but paying for all of us to attend college was a financial burden, so off to community college I went. I earned an associate degree from Howard College, and I’m happy I began my higher ed journey there. Not only was it smart financially for my family, but it also allowed me to have a great academic experience with small classes and a faculty who cared about my success.

Faculty and staff are another reason I’m so committed to community college and the mission of KCTCS. Our faculty and staff believe in our students and are there to assist them every step of the way. At a community college, students actually know their classmates and their instructors, which usually is not the case in larger institutions. This type of engagement is what makes students successful in completing their programs and improving their lives.

Whether for a degree or other credential, workforce development or life-long learning, today’s community colleges are a vital resource for Kentucky students and employers. At KCTCS, our mission always has been to improve the quality of life and employability of Kentuckians. As we celebrate Community College Month, I hope you’ll take some time to learn about KCTCS. To find out more, visit our Community College Month web page or our full site.

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Eight Down, Eight to Go

I’m now half way through the listening tour, and I’m so impressed with what I’m seeing and hearing everywhere I go. Last week, I visited Southcentral (SKYCTC) and Owensboro (OCTC), and greatly enjoyed getting to hear from so many folks.

The first stop was SKYCTC. I had great conversations with students who said by 2022 they hope the college will retain its small class sizes and have expand tutoring and advising services.

The faculty and staff were very student-focused as well saying we should continue to promote our transfer program and develop more partnerships with the four-years, provide more apprenticeship opportunities and reconnect with alumni who would serve as ambassadors for the college.

The business and community leaders echoed many of the issues I’ve been hearing all across the state. Meeting the workforce needs of local businesses is a top priority in all communities. The leaders in Bowling Green also were concerned about keeping the cost of college affordable and making sure students understand the financial aid process.

From Bowling Green, I headed north to Owensboro where students told me by 2022 we need to expand our recycling initiative. They also were concerned about student retention and said we need to improve tutoring services.

Faculty and staff said bringing more people to campus would enhance OCTC’s image in the community. Diversity and ADA compliance also were on their minds as they said OCTC needs to lead the diversity charge within the community, and we must make sure the entire campus is more ADA friendly.

Like SKYCTC, business and community leaders from OCTC talked about meeting workforce needs and strengthening partnerships with local schools and businesses. They were eager to get involved and help us tell our success stories.

Thanks so much to everyone at SKYCTC and OCTC for your hospitality and valuable input. I appreciate it very much.

This week, I’m heading west again to Madisonville, Hopkinsville and West Kentucky. I’m sure my trip to that part of the state will be a fun and interesting one. If you are a part of any of these colleges, please come talk to me while I’m visiting.

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Rollin’ on the River

Last week, the Out of the Box Listening Tour traveled to towns along the Ohio River and Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River as I visited Maysville, Ashland and Prestonsburg. Each of these towns and their college campuses share the charm and natural beauty so prevalent in those parts of the state.

During these visits, one goal I heard from all groups, whether internal or external, was to enhance the image of the community college so that it becomes the first choice for students. They also told me we need to get in front of elementary and middle school students so they begin thinking at an early age about community college as a good option. At Maysville, business leaders said they believe better educating parents about community college also would make a difference.

Students at Maysville were looking forward to moving from the classroom to the workplace and said they’d like more assistance with interview skills and job placement. They’d like to see more emphasis on dual credit as well.

Students and faculty at Ashland and Big Sandy told me they’d like to see more internship and co-op programs to help students get more hands-on experience and a better shot at jobs when they complete their programs. I also heard from students that are part of our Accelerating Opportunity program. They told me how important the program is to them and said they value their success coaches and instructors.

I was pleased to hear from mayors, county judge executives, state legislators, healthcare leaders, bankers and other representatives from business and community organizations in each of these communities. They are concerned about the funding cuts community colleges have had from state government, and because so many businesses have left the region, they would like to see entrepreneurship encouraged. Businesses in all three areas also are eager for more customized training programs.

Thanks again to all the teams at Maysville, Ashland and Big Sandy. You were great hosts. This week, I’ll be visiting Southcentral and Owensboro and am looking forward to hearing great ideas there.

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Listening Tour Goes to Henderson and Somerset

Last week, the Out of the Box Listening Tour rolled out to Henderson and then to southern Kentucky to visit Somerset. I appreciate the warm welcome and all the work the teams at both colleges did to make these visits fun and productive.

It made me very proud to hear how beloved the faculty and staff are at Henderson. It means they’re connecting and engaging with our students, which is the best way to help them complete their programs.

One thing that’s become clear very quickly on the tour is how important our colleges are to the local communities they serve. I’ve heard this from people at the colleges and from community leaders in each area. Folks in the Henderson area said they’d like to see even more partnerships between the college and community.

When I asked the strategic planning question “What does your community/region need the college to be by 2022?” folks at Henderson said we need to align more of our programs to meet local workforce needs. Just like Hazard, the Henderson community also said they need more health care workers.

In Somerset the discussion also turned to jobs. I was pleased to see their entrepreneurial spirit as they talked about preparing students for business ownership as another avenue of job creation.

Student success was a big topic at Somerset. Using mentors to help ensure student success was suggested, and students said they want to help recruit prospective students by promoting the quality of their education and the caring faculty and staff at Somerset. They believe their testimonials used in advertising and YouTube are good ways to achieve this.

Thanks again to everyone at Henderson and Somerset for all the ideas. Next week, I’ll be heading to Maysville, Ashland and Big Sandy. If you work at or attend one of those colleges, I’d love to meet you and hear what you have to say about the future of your college and our entire system.

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More Madness in March

transferMadnessIt’s March in Kentucky and that always means we’ll be watching some great basketball. But there’s something else going on this week that should interest our students just as much. That’s Transfer Madness, our annual online transfer event. Transfer Madness allows current and prospective students to conveniently and easily learn about transfer information for all Kentucky public and private universities.
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