Recently, while visiting one of our colleges, I was fortunate to have lunch prepared by our culinary students. The food was delicious and the plates were beautifully presented. After the meal, I sought out the students to congratulate them.
Little did I know, that would be the most invigorating part of my day. These students were passionate about what they’re learning and eager to get out into the world and put their new skills to work. Listening to their plans and dreams was a great example of the important role our colleges play in educating thousands of students each year for jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.
Most people are familiar with our transfer programs at Kentucky Community and Technical College System, but far fewer understand what we offer those who want to quickly learn a skill and get to work.
We recently completed market research with 3,000 Kentuckians from all parts of the state, and it’s clear we have low awareness of our programs like culinary, health care, advanced manufacturing, construction and other skilled trades, lineman training and many more. Some can be completed in four months or less and have salaries as high as $60,000.
KCTCS is working closely with state agencies and employers to help build a skilled and educated workforce in each community by aligning what we teach to local employers’ needs.
Our new Advanced Manufacturing Center in Scott County is a good example. Students get hands-on experience and a paycheck from Toyota while also taking classes from Bluegrass Community and Technical College. When students complete the program, they’ll be some of the most experienced new technicians in the country.
Beginning this fall, more students will have an opportunity to quickly move into high-paying jobs. The new Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship covers the cost of tuition for programs in health care, advanced manufacturing, transportation/logistics, business services/information technology and construction/trades.
This is good news for unemployed and underemployed folks as well as high-school graduates not interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree. It’s also good news for our local and state economies.
At KCTCS, our role is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to succeed. In fact, community colleges were founded nearly 100 years ago on the concept of social justice and providing all Americans an affordable education.
Over the years, students from all walks of life have enjoyed increased access to postsecondary education, largely through the doors of community and technical colleges. Community colleges have even been called the Statue of Liberty of higher ed.
As we continue to celebrate Community College Month, and with graduation right around the corner, I expect you’ll be hearing some of our student success stories. When you do, please think about the barriers to education some of our students face.
Some have placed limits on themselves based on what they believe to be their inability to succeed in college. Many of them are working, raising children and/or caring for a family member. They may be the first in their family to go to college, so they have no one at home who is experienced in the financial aid process and other higher ed procedures.
Yet, they thrive at community college because we have the small classes and personal instruction some need. This is especially true in our occupational programs where students get hands-on experience that prepares them to walk out of college and into a job. These students have learned the best-kept secret in higher ed in Kentucky: KCTCS occupational programs.
Our mission is to improve the lives and employability of Kentuckians, and it’s a mission we take very seriously. I invite all to visit our website, kctcs.edu, or visit one of our campuses to learn more about how to get in, get out and get to work.
Jay K. Box is president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.