As lawmakers, higher education leaders and political pundits debate the feasibility of America's College Promise — President Barack Obama's proposal for tuition-free community college — somewhere in Kentucky a graduating senior wonders if he can afford to go to college.
Somewhere across the commonwealth a working adult with hopes to finish a degree debates if she has the time or the fortitude to step back into the classroom.
As a state, we owe it to our students, our communities and our local economies to fulfill students' dreams of higher education, and that's a promise we can make right now.
The Kentucky Community and Technical College System is a comprehensive system of 16 open access institutions, and with more than 70 locations statewide there is a campus within a 30-minute drive of 95 percent of all Kentuckians.
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Community colleges are still the best value in higher education and students can complete an associate degree in two years for the average tuition cost of just one year at a university.
Students are then poised to either enter the workforce with less debt or transfer to a four-year institution with substantial savings on their first semesters of college.
With financial aid, scholarships, online options and even business partnerships that allow some students to earn a paycheck while completing courses, cost should not be a barrier to dreams of a college credential.
What we find when surveying prospective students is that a number of them give up on dreams of going to college without a full understanding of the resources and support available to them.
Life challenges can build a wall of doubt that leads students to delay or give up on higher education altogether.
We can't let that happen. As the second president of KCTCS. my vision is for us to be our students' dream catcher, and that starts with promoting a college-going culture for our children, giving them a path to degree attainment and finally seeing them through to successful completion of their college career and job placement.
Since 2011, KCTCS has held an annual outreach initiative each February called Super Sunday. Our colleges partner with area African-American and Latino churches to host college information fairs for prospective students and their families.
Events are open to all and intentionally target communities historically at greatest risk of missing out on the opportunities afforded through higher education.
I am proud to mark the fifth anniversary of Super Sunday on Feb. 22. Since the inception of these college fairs we've seen a 19 percent increase in enrollment of students who self-identify as African-American, Latino or two or more races.
The number of degrees awarded and student transfers to four-year institutions has also grown.
Since 2000, KCTCS has increased the number of credentials awarded by 400 percent, among all students.
According to a national study, Kentucky ranks second ior improvement of credentials requiring two years or less of college, and for the first time in history Kentucky has surpassed the national average in the attainment of associate degrees. More than 750,000 students have entered our doors to date.
I am excited to consider the opportunities for future students that could be provided through America's College Promise, but we know students have dreams now.
To learn more about KCTCS and Super Sunday, visit kctcs.edu and join me in the promise to fulfill Kentuckians' dreams of completing college.
The academic and economic potential of every student must be met with a full understanding of the options for higher education available in our great commonwealth.