Urban League “Empowered to Thrive” Speech

October 19, 2015

Thank you Dr. Julian for that kind introduction.

It’s an honor and a privilege to be with you this evening. It is always a pleasure to have the opportunity to meet with organizations that have missions that are similar to KCTCS―missions that are focused on helping individuals achieve their dreams.

I would like to take the next few minutes to share three things with you.

First – I will talk about how the Urban League and KCTCS share many of the same goals …and take a few minutes to celebrate some of the accomplishments of the leaders who serve both of our organizations.

Second – I will discuss our commitment to serving students from underrepresented populations.

And third…I will share our focus on creating an educated workforce that will ensure Kentucky’s economy and citizens not only survive but thrive.

As I thought about this opportunity to speak to you and the theme of your event, I began to think about how the Urban League and Kentucky Community and Technical College System’s missions are so similar.

In many ways, your mission of social and economic equality by helping people to achieve self-sufficiency through education and job training, and leadership development is tied to KCTCS in ways no other organization is.

Our charge by the Kentucky Legislature when it created KCTCS back in 1997 was to improve the quality of lives and employability of Kentuckians.

In essence, our job, just like yours, is to transform lives. Since our inception, we’ve touched the lives of 750,000 Kentuckians. Most of those folks came to us looking for a way to empower themselves through education so they could thrive in their communities.

When you get down to it, what most people really want is an opportunity to succeed…and to achieve their dreams.
And isn’t that what the Urban League is all about? Both of our organizations are essentially dreamcatchers.

It certainly is what KCTCS was created to do, and why community colleges exist.

Our nation’s community colleges were founded on the concept of social justice and providing all Americans, particularly those economically and socially disadvantaged, an affordable and accessible education.

Over the years the poor, working-class, and under-represented populations have enjoyed increased access to postsecondary education, largely through the doors of community and technical colleges.

KCTCS is an open access institution with more than 70 locations around the state that make it convenient for people to attend college without leaving their communities.

We’re also the most affordable higher education institution in Kentucky. 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.
Growing leaders is another mission we both have in common, so I would like to take some time to celebrate how the Urban League shares its leaders with us.

KCTCS benefits from having not one, but two, of your leaders helping us lead our colleges. Annissa Franklin leads Dr. Julian’s board at BCTC. She has been a valuable member of the board and is now the board chair. Thank you Annissa!

When it comes to civic engagement and leadership there’s no better example than the Urban League’s president and CEO, PG Peeples. He is involved in so many terrific civic initiatives that I won’t even try to name them. Suffice it to say, he is lending his time and talents to this community in a way few others are.

We are extremely fortunate to be the beneficiary of P.G.’s leadership skills. He has been, and continues to be, a strong leader on the KCTCS Board of Regents. And as many of you know, he just completed a term as chair of the KCTCS Board of Regents. In his role as board chair, he also served as a member of the KCTCS Foundation Board of Directors.

P.G brings a critical perspective that has enriched our discussions and enhanced the development of strategies to provide service to people of our state who many times don’t have a voice or a representative at the table.

In addition, he has a unique perspective because he is a graduate of one of our colleges – Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.

He has helped our board to see our students through the eyes of someone who’s been where they are. Someone who can relate to the struggles community college students face. Someone who always looks out for our students and what’s best for them. Someone who cares.

Being a community college graduate myself, I know that experience helped shape my beliefs and gave me the foundation I needed to be successful in life and in my career. I know PG would agree that community college did the same for him.

Thank you P.G. for your time and dedication, and I thank the members of the Lexington Urban League for sharing him and Annissa with us.

Let’s give the two of them a round of applause!

While I’m talking about leadership, I also want to congratulate Charlene Walker on receiving the Individual Champion of Diversity Award tonight. As you heard, Charlene plays a very important role at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. She leads our multicultural and inclusion efforts at the college and does an outstanding job.

Congratulations on your award, Charlene. It is well deserved. Let’s give her and all the award winners another round of applause.

Charlene is one of many people at KCTCS working toward increasing cultural diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion among our KCTCS family. Which is the second topic I want to discuss this evening.

We have people at each college who are specifically focused on the outreach, recruitment and retention of underrepresented students, faculty and staff.

As part of that outreach to students, KCTCS created an event several years ago called Super Sunday. This is an annual student recruitment initiative specifically targeting African-American students and their families, with information and resources to support college admissions and enrollment.

It is held in partnership with African-American churches around the state on one Sunday each February.

This is a very important event that helps us reach out to young people who may not realize they, too, can go to college.

Since the program began we’ve partnered with nearly 200 churches and reached approximately 42,000 participants through our Super Sunday events.
This is only one of the many activities that Charlene and her peers are engaged in to reach out to prospective students who are often not part of the higher education conversation. They provide the guidance and support that is needed to navigate what can be a very complicated process.

And I am proud to say their efforts are 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.

We’ve also seen an increase of 6.5 percent in associate degree and other credential attainment by African-American and Latino students in that same time period.

And lastly, under P.G.’s leadership KCTCS has executed a supplier diversity program focused on connecting us and other higher education institutions with minority business owners across the state.

This year, approximately 100 suppliers, faculty and staff attended the event in Elizabethtown. I’m happy to report we had suppliers not only from Kentucky, but also from six contiguous states.

We’re very pleased with how this event is helping us reach a more diverse group of vendors, and how it continues to grow each year.

The third topic I would like to discuss with you this evening is the work we are doing to create an educated workforce, which is the key to our state’s future.

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 is 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. This is becoming more important than ever before.

Enrollment in postsecondary education is down at almost every institution including KCTCS, specifically among the non-traditional, adult student population.

Our state faces many changes in the workforce and job outlook over the next several years. We know that most jobs already require some type of postsecondary credential, and that will only continue to increase. We also know that a large number of Baby Boomers in our workforce are reaching retirement age in droves.

Even though unemployment is low, many people are working in jobs that don’t pay as well as they could. That’s mainly because a large portion of Kentucky’s workforce is undereducated.

This summer, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce issued a report on the state’s workforce and the challenges employers are facing. The report said that we have too many people without jobs and too many jobs without people.

If you talk to employers around the state, you’ll find that many good, high paying jobs are not being filled because people do not have the training and skills needed. This is where we come in, and one of the key points I want to make this evening.

We are the place for people to go if they want to get trained quickly for high wage, high demand jobs.

And, we also are where thousands of students earn associate degrees and transfer to four-year universities, which also lead to employment in Kentucky to fill jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Whether students complete their education with us or move on to a four-year institutions, education is the key to prosperity for students and for our state.

KCTCS does a good job of training our students for specific jobs, but we’ve heard loud and clear from employers that students are coming to them with a lack of soft skills. That’s one reason I’m so impressed with the work you’re doing with parents and youth by teaching young people how important it is to show up on time, respect others and work hard.

We are implementing more of that type of learning in our curriculum because it is so important to success in the workplace.

Because we know education is the best way to empower people and that a good job is the first step to economic prosperity, I want to tell you a bit about our partnerships with business.

Last year through our Workforce Solutions program we served more than 5,500 business with customized training for nearly 50,000 workers. That’s a huge number of people who’ve improved their skills that make their companies for productive, efficient, and globally competitive.

One of the most popular initiatives we are involved in is KY FAME which stands for the Kentucky Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education. It’s a partnership between KCTCS colleges and local manufacturers in which students engage in a work and learn, apprenticeship-style program. Students learn specific skills directly in a workplace environment while receiving classroom instruction.

They earn college credit in advanced manufacturing technology and a salary while preparing for a full-time job.

I certainly don’t need to tell everyone in this room that we live in a different day and age than our parents and grandparents…particularly when it comes to meeting the demands of a global economy.

Manufacturing work in those days was hot and dirty. But that’s not so today.

Through programs like KY FAME, we are showing today’s generation that they can use technology and their advanced technical skills while working in a clean environment, earning a very good salary with a KCTCS associate degree.

KY FAME started here in central Kentucky with BCTC’s partnership with Toyota. I want to thank those from Toyota here tonight for your partnership and all you’ve done for our students.

KYFAME has now spread to many other areas of the state and employers are looking at ways to expand the KYFAME model to other careers outside of manufacturing.

One other initiative that KCTCS is deeply involved in is the effort to bring high speed, reliable Internet service to every corner of the state.
This broadband project, called Kentucky Wired, is the key catalyst for profound and sweeping growth in job creation, health care access and education.

Our 16 colleges will serve as distribution hubs for connectivity. This makes KCTCS colleges vital to creating improved Internet access in communities throughout the commonwealth.

Additionally, broadband technology training that soon will be launched at KCTCS colleges also will be available through the Urban League. These short-term, job training programs will prepare those in the urban core for high paying jobs right in their community.

This is yet another example of how our two organizations benefit from working together.

This evening, I’ve talked about a lot of things KCTCS is doing and how they relate to the Urban League mission. As you can see, we are on the same path. And it’s the right path for our communities.

In closing, I want to tell you how much I admire the work the Urban League is doing and how important I believe you Lexington and the surrounding region.

The theme of your event – Empowered to Thrive – embodies everything you stand for and everything KCTCS stands for.

Empowerment is a strong thing.

Providing people with the opportunity to be empowered and make sure they have the opportunities they need to thrive is not only Urban League’s mission. It’s ours, too.

As Thurgood Marshall once said, “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, or someone – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

Let’s commit to continue working together, sharing knowledge and leadership to make sure all of our citizens are empowered to thrive!

Thanks again for inviting me speak with you this evening. It’s been a pleasure to be here.

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