Best education value? Kentucky’s 20-year-old community college system


It’s the 20th anniversary of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and we have a lot to celebrate. So far, we’ve helped better the lives of more than 875,000 Kentuckians.

We recently had a student video contest in which we asked them to tell us how their KCTCS is helping them have a better life. Trust me when I say how emotional it is to see a crying student look into the camera say her college not only gave her a better life, but it saved her life.

This is why we exist.

You may not know KCTCS was created by the General Assembly in 1997 to bring together all of the state’s community colleges and vocational schools under one system. The state mandated mission was, and still is, improving the lives and employability of Kentuckians through college and workforce readiness; workforce education and training and transfer education

One of the main goals in creating the system was to provide access to higher ed to all Kentuckians. The first 10 years were spent doing that by opening more campuses, building new facilities and adding technology and distance learning programs.

Our enrollment doubled in those first 10 years. During the next few years, we worked with the legislature to pass legislation so our students could seamlessly transfer their classes to our four-year partner institutions.

The last few years, we’ve been focused on retaining our students and helping them complete their programs. We’ve seen success in this area, especially in terms of short-term certificate completion. These credentials are in high demand by employers.

Now, we are looking at the impact the system is making on Kentucky and how that can be improved.

Here are more of our accomplishments:

▪ Being the largest provider of postsecondary, online and workforce education in Kentucky.

▪ Having the lowest tuition in the state; it’s less than half that of the public universities.

▪ Seeing a 250-percent increase in credentials awarded since we were created.

▪ Awarding 98 percent of the state’s short-term certificates.

▪ Educating 82 percent of the state’s skilled trades workers.

▪ Awarding 87 percent of the associate degrees in nursing and allied health.

▪ Educating half of the state’s dual-credit students, which has saved Kentucky families $11 million through reduced tuition and state scholarships.

▪ Being a wise investment. For every $1 students invest in their education, they receive a return on investment of $5.80 in lifetime earnings. Taxpayers receive $3.40 in added taxes and public-sector savings.

▪ Saving taxpayers $50 million by operating as a system.

▪ Being ranked No. 6 in the U.S. among community-college systems in the new WalletHub.com rankings.

As you can see, we have a lot to be proud of in our first 20 years. Our students continue to amaze me, and their stories tug at the heartstrings. They’ve overcome abuse, homelessness, job loss, illnesses and many other barriers, but they press on because they know the only way to a better life and a good job is through education.

Unfortunately, our research shows many Kentuckians who could benefit from earning a credential have no intention to do so. It’s time for Kentuckians to come together to create a culture that values higher education. We need your help, so talk to kids about the importance of earning a college credential.

If you’re an adult without a GED or high school diploma, come talk to us. We’ll help you find an on-ramp to the educational freeway toward a better-paying job.

KCTCS is committed to being the most affordable and impactful higher education institution in Kentucky. We want to make this impact not only through our students, but also in their communities and the commonwealth. Join us in our continued pursuit of helping Kentuckians have better lives.

Jay K. Box is president of Kentucky Community and Technical College.