Community college setting up new path to four-year degrees in Southern Kentucky
Four Kentucky universities have signed on to a plan to offer bachelor’s degrees through the two-year college in Somerset, which officials believe will increase the number of people in Southern Kentucky with bachelor’s degrees and boost economic development.
The schools joining the program with Somerset Community College are the University of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, Western Kentucky University and Morehead State University.
Under the partnership, students will be able to finish a number of four-year degrees at the community college, without having to transfer to a school elsewhere.
That’s attractive to people in the region because it could hold down the cost of a bachelor’s degree.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican who lives in Somerset, announced the schools taking part during an event at the Somerset campus. Gov. Matt Bevin and representatives from the four universities also took part.
The partnership is called the University Center of Southern Kentucky. The three regional universities have committed to begin offering a total of more than 30 classes through the center next fall toward degrees in several fields, including education, technology, health care and business.
UK is figuring out which classes to offer given what the other three universities are doing, said David Blackwell, UK’s provost.
Many of the classes will be offered online, but some will be on campus.
Officials said the participating schools will have staffers at the center to help with financial aid and other issues.
Each participating school will set tuition rates for classes it offers. Students will get a four-year degree from the universities, not the center.
The plan is to expand offerings later, said SCC President Carey Castle.
Residents, business people and officials in the Somerset area have long wished for a four-year college in Southern Kentucky. The nearest four-year, public university is EKU, which is about an hour from Somerset.
“This is the first step to transforming this community,” Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley said of the new center. “A four-year college just opens so many doors to economic opportunity.”
Rogers said that many students stop attending college after two years at the community college because they can’t afford to go elsewhere, while many who can afford to attend four-year schools don’t return after getting degrees, costing the region bright young people.
There is a diverse economy in the Lake Cumberland region, but the lack of a four-year, public university has been a missing piece, Rogers said.
“The University Center of Southern Kentucky brings a sense of completion to the Lake Cumberland region,” he said.
Rogers and others announced the program in December but didn’t say which four-year schools would participate because they hadn’t firmed up the agreements.
The idea in Somerset is based on the University Center of the Mountains in Hazard, which offers direct and online classes with nearly a dozen public and private universities.
When officials announced the program in Somerset in December, Jay Box, president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, said the center in Hazard had issued more than 2,000 baccalaureate degrees in its 14 years, many to people who wouldn’t have gotten them otherwise.
In a 2013 report on rural education access, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education recommended the University Center of the Mountains as a model of accessible education for rural communities.
It appears that the University Center of Southern Kentucky will not need approval from the council or the legislature because the participating schools are already accredited.
Somerset Community College, which opened in 1965 and is part of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, offers two-year associates degrees, as well as certificates and diplomas in several fields.
It has campuses or centers in Somerset, London, Albany, Liberty, Russell Springs and Whitley City, but the four-year degree program will be at the Somerset campus.