FRANKFORT — A consortium of six Kentucky community colleges will get $10 million as part of a $450 million grant program the Obama administration announced Monday to help hundreds of colleges partner with employers on job training.
Vice President Joe Biden and the secretaries of education and labor announced the nearly 270 grant winners at the White House.
In Kentucky, the colleges will use the money to expand online training in computer and medical fields for more than 700 workers. The money also will allow the consortium to train low-skilled workers for information technology jobs and provide job placement services.
The participating colleges are among the Kentucky Community and Technical College System's 16 colleges: Hazard, Big Sandy in Prestonsburg, Jefferson in Louisville, Somerset, Southeast Kentucky in Cumberland, and West Kentucky in Paducah.
"We are just thrilled with this," said Jim Selbe, KCTCS system director for distance learning initiatives and a special assistant to the chancellor. "Our program is one of the best kept secrets in Kentucky."
He said training for high-demand jobs in computer and medical technology will get easier and cheaper with the federal money.
Students in the program have access to a Learn on Demand online curriculum through KCTCS, allowing them to learn and progress at their own pace, Selbe said.
That means students advance based on competency, not on class hours fulfilled or semesters completed, he said.
The federal grant will support a new program within Learn on Demand called Enhancing Programs for IT Certification (EPIC).
EPIC will use computer and medical information curriculum to support five degrees and 13 certificates, all of which will be developed in concert with regional and national employers, Selbe said.
"Our region has experienced significant economic loss over the last several years," said Dr. Ella J. Strong, dean of distance learning and senior project advisor for Hazard Community and Technical College. "We have many unemployed and underemployed workers who are seeking sustainable higher paying jobs that will not only enable them to provide for their families but allow them to remain in Kentucky."
Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, noted that some of the community colleges are located in Eastern Kentucky, where Beshear and Rogers are heading the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative to diversify an economy battered by the declining coal industry.
"The timing of this funding is critical for southern and eastern Kentucky, where we are working diligently to rebound from a devastating loss of jobs in the coal fields and diversify our economy," Rogers said.
"Our community colleges are a critical nexus between workers and emerging businesses," Beshear said. "These colleges have developed a fast-track pipeline to get businesses the trained workers they need in the shortest time possible, which saves students money and helps local businesses advance their work."
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez noted that the U.S. Department of Labor has invested more than $25 million in Kentucky over the last four years "to ensure that workers have access to training for the specific skills employers need to stay competitive in the global economy."
The region won a $44 million Race to the Top grant for early childhood education last December, and the Centers for Disease Control last week committed a full-time staffer to the SOAR initiative to assist with public health efforts.