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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Listening Tour Begins in Hazard

OTB_ListeningTour2015This week, I kicked off the Out of the Box Listening Tour, which is my plan to visit all of our colleges over the next several weeks to gather input about the future of KCTCS. My first stop was at Hazard Community and Technical College, where I was privileged to serve as president a few years ago. There’s an old saying that you can’t go home again, but that’s not true if your home was Hazard. The community is a very welcoming one, and I’ll always feel at home there.
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Good News for Students!

Paying for college continues to be a challenge for many students, so last Friday was a great day for them! The KCTCS Board of Regents unanimously approved freezing tuition for 2015-2016. Last June the board approved a tuition rate increase of $3 per semester credit hour for 2014-15 and an additional $3 increase for 2015-16. Friday’s vote overturned that decision, and I’m pleased to announce tuition will hold steady at $147 per credit hour for our in-state students.
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Obstacles and Opportunities

Since March is Women’s History Month, I’ve been thinking about the tremendous role women play at KCTCS. Women are a crucial ingredient to the success of our colleges. For example, half of our college presidents are female, we have a new female chancellor coming on board soon and many of our student leaders are women. There are women in leadership roles throughout the System, and they are the heart and soul of what we do.
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The Weather Outside is Frightful

Like most of you, I’m really tired of this cold, snowy weather. It’s a challenge, for sure, with poor road conditions, snow on top of snow and record-breaking cold temperatures. Growing up in Texas, I witnessed unpredictable weather that shut down schools and businesses, too. Missing school may be fun when you’re a kid, but when you’re trying to earn a degree or complete a program, it’s frustrating.
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