Paducah Chamber of Commerce Salute to Education

November 05, 2015
Paducah, KY

Good morning everyone, and thanks for inviting me to speak with you today.

I’m passionate about the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and am always happy to share that passion with others. I also am happy to have an opportunity to talk about the exceptional college you have here in Paducah!

I want to thank Bonnie Schrock and Baptist Health for your generous support of the West Kentucky Community and Technical College nursing program. Your hospital and Lourdes Hospital are respected and committed partners. We appreciate it, and I know Dr. Veazy does as well.

I’d also like to thank Dr. Bob Davies, president of Murray State University, for the terrific working relationship we have with his university. This partnership makes it easier for our students to continue their education close to home, and I appreciate all Murray State does to make this as seamless as possible.

I also want to take just a moment to congratulate Dr. Veazy and her staff for the outstanding work they do every day to make West Kentucky Community and Technical College one of the very best in the nation.

And that’s not just my opinion. As you’ve probably heard, the Aspen Institute has twice named your local college a top three national finalist with distinction. The Aspen Prize is the nation’s preeminent recognition of high achievement and performance in America’s community colleges, so being named a finalist with distinction is no easy task.

WKCTC has a commitment to excellence, and they are setting the bar high. Their transfer rate is above the national average as is the number of their transfer students who graduate from a four-year university.

Additionally, the college is committed to equity and is part of the Achieving the Dream National Reform Network.

Data show the college’s underrepresented minorities are performing as well as their Caucasian students.

I’m also proud of the work the college is doing in the community with the Emerging Technology program. WKCTC plays a leadership role in economic development and the arts with the Inland Logistics and Marine Technology Institute and the Paducah School of Art and Design.

Let’s give Dr. Veazy and her staff a round of applause for all they’ve achieved and their commitment to this community. I now want to talk to you about three things that are important to KCTCS and its success. First, I want to provide you with an overview of our organization. You’re probably somewhat familiar with WKCTC, and I’d like to expand on that so you know more about our entire system.

Second, I want to share with you how KCTCS works with business and industry to prepare Kentucky’s workforce. And last, I want to talk a little about the future of higher education in Kentucky.

As some of you may know, I began my role as system president in January.

I was honored and humbled to be selected as the second president of KCTCS… and I was excited to begin this new chapter in my life and that of our System.

My love of and passion for community colleges began when I was a community college student myself.

I grew up in Crane, Texas, which at the time was a typical Texas oil field town with a population of less than 3,000.

I am the youngest of four boys in my family, and if any of you grew up in a large family, you know money can be tight. There was no chance of my parents paying my college tuition.

So I began my education at a community college, and it was a great place for me.

Because of that community college, I gained the knowledge, experience and confidence I needed to transfer and continue my education, earning advanced degrees. It created the foundation for all I’ve been able to accomplish in higher ed.

Many of today’s student’s all across Kentucky are following a similar path by beginning their college journey at a community college. That is why our tagline is Higher Education Begins Here.

Nearly half of all undergraduates in the Commonwealth begin college at KCTCS.

And like me, they’re attending community college because it’s the most affordable way to get a college credential. Even so, about 90 percent of our students receive financial aid. So it’s important to us to keep college as affordable as possible.

That’s why we did not raise tuition this fall. In fact, we are the only public postsecondary institution to freeze tuition in 2015.
One of the reasons this system was created in 1997 was to provide open access and convenient locations for students who wanted or needed to stay close to home while attending college.

In addition to our 16 colleges having more than 70 locations, KCTCS is the largest provider of online education in the state.
As one of our primary ways of reaching students where they are, online education provides students who lead busy, complicated lives with the convenience and flexibility they need to earn college credentials.

As I began this job back in January, I spent time thinking about my goals and aspirations for the System.

As you can imagine, we focus a great deal of our resources on recruitment and helping people of all ages enroll in a college program.

For me, that’s not enough. My goal is for students not only to enroll in college, but to complete college.

That’s more difficult for many of our students than you might think.

The average age of our students is 27, so many of them are juggling family and jobs along with college. Job responsibilities, children and other life issues get in the way and college moves to the back burner.

We also lose them when the economy improves.

They get jobs and drop out before completing their programs. Don’t get me wrong. We’re happy they’re employed.

But we have to find ways to help them complete their program and earn college credentials even after they go back to work. As business leaders, you know this is becoming more important than ever before.

Our mission at KCTCS is to improve the quality of life and employability of Kentuckians. We do this in three ways … by serving as the primary provider of:
• College and Workforce Readiness;
• Transfer Education; and
• Workforce Education and Training.

Which leads me to my second point of talking about our commitment to the businesses of Kentucky.
KCTCS is the largest provider of workforce training in the state.

Last year alone, we served more than 55-hundred businesses and trained nearly 50-thousand employees.

The centerpiece of the KCTCS workforce and economic development effort is the KCTCS-TRAINS program.

It’s part of the Kentucky Skills Network, which is a partnership between the Cabinet for Economic Development, Kentucky Career Center, Labor Cabinet and KCTCS.
Through KCTCS TRAINS, companies are provided with funding to defray the costs of training and assessment services for current and potential employees to keep them competitive.

This is important for employers and workers. A recent national study shows our graduates are earning higher wages at all levels and fields of study than those who do not receive a credential.

We see the strongest returns in healthcare, trades and the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM) fields.

We’re also seeing success from a program called KY FAME.

If you aren’t familiar with KY FAME, it stands for Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education. KY Fame chapters are growing all around the state.

This unique work-and-learn model has gained national recognition for its innovative weekly schedule of two days in class and three days working for a partner company.

The KYFAME model has become so successful that employers are looking at ways to expand it to other careers outside of manufacturing.

The last thing I want to talk about this morning is the future of higher education in Kentucky.

I’ve just talked about our partnerships with business … and this is going to become increasingly important moving forward.

Because everything KCTCS is focused on is about the workforce.

It’s about jobs.

It’s about global competitiveness.

It’s about economic prosperity… and it’s about quality of life.

You may have read or heard about the Kentucky Chamber’s report that came out this summer. It said we have too many people without jobs and too many jobs without people.

As we look at our state, we know we still have too many undereducated and underemployed people.

That’s what the Chamber is talking about. We must move those undereducated and underemployed folks into the better paying jobs you have to offer, but can’t find qualified people to fill. This is especially true for manufacturing jobs, but includes other types as well.

We can do this through occupational programs at our community colleges.

In some cases that means an associate degree; in others it might mean earning a certificate or diploma.

For your businesses to compete globally and for our state’s economic prosperity, we know postsecondary education is the answer.

But folks, that has become increasingly difficult because our state funding has been decreasing for several 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. As business leaders, you know this is not a sustainable model.

You may be surprised to learn that only 21 percent of our budget comes from state appropriations.

I know you’re thinking the state budget pie is limited, and we understand that.

During the recession, higher ed was getting chopped in state budgets all around the country. But, while other states have begun restoring those funds, Kentucky has not.
It’s so dire that if it weren’t for West Virginia, Kentucky would be dead last among state appropriations.

Forty-ninth out of 50! Is that what we want to be known for?

If we truly want Kentucky to be globally competitive, higher education needs to be a top priority for everyone, not just for those of us in higher ed and business.

I mentioned that we froze tuition this year.

I felt we had to, even though it hurt us financially. In the past few years, because of state funding cuts, our only option has been to raise tuition.

But I felt, and the Board of Regents agreed, that we cannot continue to fund our colleges on the backs of our students.

We’ve also had to do some 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.

Now, it’s time for us to get a little help from the state.

So, we will be asking the General Assembly to restore half of what we’ve lost over the last several years. If that happens, we plan to use those funds in four ways that directly relate to Kentucky’s employers.

• Expand/enhance career development and Job placement Services
• Expand/enhance experiential learning programs (internships, apprenticeships, etc.)
• Enhance program/curriculum alignment to better meet needs of local employers
• Enhance employability and soft skills of KCTCS graduates.

These are all things business leaders throughout the state have told us they want KCTCS to do. And we are committed to making sure that happens.

In closing, I want to say my vision is a future where all of our students’ dreams translate into communities with a college-educated workforce, ready and able to fulfill the needs of local business and industry.

Most of our students want to stay in their community and make it a better place to live and raise a family. A college education gives them a better chance of doing that.

My job is to lead this outstanding group of committed faculty and staff from all across Kentucky so that we help our students get the education they need as well as the support and encouragement they deserve to fulfill their dreams.

We must make sure they succeed.

Their future depends on it.

Kentucky’s future depends on it.

Thank you so much for inviting me to be with you today. And thank you for your support of KCTCS, and especially for your support of West Kentucky Community and Technical College.

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