Community colleges are often known for technical programs that prepare students for entry-level professional careers or as cost-effective alternatives for students to get their "basics" before transferring to a four-year institution.
For students interested in a career in the arts, however, most community colleges haven't provided a clear, viable path.
Bluegrass Community and Technical College aims to change that.
The school will launch the commonwealth's first associate's degree in fine arts. For now, the degree will be available for students of theater, but programs in other arts disciplines are in development.
The new degree establishes the Kentucky Community and Technical College System as a pioneer in an emerging trend to foster thriving arts programs in community colleges.
"This is a trend that's been growing nationwide in the last ten years or so," says associate professor Tim Davis, the theater coordinator.
Increasing arts offerings to community college students is on the rise, but BCTC is one of the first colleges in the region to add an arts degree.
"To my knowledge, there are only a couple of other programs in the southeast that offer an AFA in theater," Davis says, "so we're pretty unique in that sense."
Davis started the BCTC theater program six years ago and has been adding programming steadily.
Since its first production in 2007, students have had the opportunity to participate in 16 full productions, including dramas, comedies and musicals.
The program's most recent production — Chicago — enjoyed sold-out runs.
BCTC has played the lead in establishing the AFA in theater, but Davis is quick to say that the AFA degree could be available throughout the KCTCS system.
"Any KCTCS school could choose to offer this program," Davis says.
The program's flexible scheduling opens the door for students who might not be able to participate in a traditional program.
"The cost is significantly less than other institutions," Davis says, "and it opens the door to folks who have full-time work schedules, or non-traditional students with kids."
Bringing quality arts programming to more Kentucky residents is not the only aim of the program.
Davis says the students graduating from his program will be sought after by theater programs in four-year colleges and universities.
The program's small size allows for a lot of individual attention, and students often get to dive into big projects as freshmen or sophomores, earning valuable hands-on experience that many underclassmen in traditional theater programs don't get to experience until later in their undergraduate careers.
"Our freshmen and sophomores often get lead roles or the opportunity to stage manage," Davis says. "And we've already had two student directors in our brief history."
In addition to the individual attention and valuable practice experience, Davis often collaborates with area theaters and established local theater professionals, offering students chances to work side by side with seasoned veterans.
That came about in part because the program doesn't yet have a dedicated theater space.
"We've taken a disadvantage and made an advantage out of it," Davis says.
The Lexington theater community often welcomes BCTC theater students to participate in a variety of ways.
Students have interned at Actors Guild of Lexington, studied stage craft in Lexington Children's Theatre's scene shop and even performed in area productions.
Davis says these collaborations add to the value of the BCTC theater program.
"I want my students to go out in the local community and if they get cast, that's great," Davis says. "I want them to get out and get the experience of working for someone other than myself. It gives them a maturity that maybe a lot of freshmen and sophomore students don't have, and our students do."
Even before the program was officially offered, many of the program's alumni have gone on to complete their theater training in other colleges and universities, Davis says: "They come into the four-year programs ready to go."