Ky. Voices: Education summit set ambitious goals; rare cooperation holds promise

More than 160 regional education and business leaders agree on at least one thing: The need to collaborate to help high school students and adults become more ready for college and work.

A dynamic group of leaders identified more than 150 ideas to consider at the first-ever summit for school superintendents and university presidents from the 18-county Central Kentucky region on Oct. 26.

The summit was convened by the Bluegrass Higher Education Consortium, a collaboration of 12 higher education institutions initiated and facilitated by Bluegrass Tomorrow with major support from the Bluegrass Area Development District.

The BHEC, along with several K-12 district superintendents and business leaders, followed up this day of visioning to consider outcomes and priorities. Several principles are key to creating what could potentially be the most exciting educational collaborative in recent years.

Here is what we think so far:

1. There must be a major transformation in how we approach career planning and preparation, and how we help students make college and career choices.

Many students still fall through the cracks even though K-12 partners are doing incredible work supporting students to make good choices for college and careers and parents also seek assistance for the right college fit or to help students with career exploration.

We must focus more on individual planning, technology, mentorships and job connections to help students take the lead in discovering what might be possible for them as they plan for lives of work and service. Now, on average, there is one guidance counselor for 435 Kentucky high school students.

We are shortchanging young people in the Bluegrass if they cannot access a support system that will allow all to be successful.

2. There must be a new focus on what skills, talents and capacities are necessary for the emerging young adult and tomorrow's citizen-leader. It will take the best work of many partners to develop world-class learners prepared for global citizenship and the most well-educated, well-rounded citizens possible.

We must develop experiences that prepare students for the opportunities they will find here in the Bluegrass. In the next few weeks and months we will work to define the characteristics of this "ideal young adult" — one prepared to deal with a quickly changing global economy.

3. There must be opportunities for the well-rounded young adult to become skilled in three important disciplines: STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), the arts and workplace competencies.

Workplace competencies generally include written and verbal communication, teamwork, interpersonal skills, problem solving and creativity, quantitative reasoning, adaptability and a commitment to lifelong learning.

It is no longer acceptable for students to make single choices or be skilled in just one area of study. Students need a variety of experiences that they can get through the classroom curriculum, technology, participation in arts or sports activities, community service, entrepreneur experiences or global studies and travel.

Today's young adult, in a lifetime of work and service, will need to be prepared to have three to five different careers. We must support students in acquiring life skills along with professional skills to help them become ready for college or technical training, starting careers and creating fulfilling and productive lives.

4. There must be advocacy with government and legislative leaders to address the challenges posed by such an ambitious goal for learners in the Bluegrass — noting that this goal may challenge the commonwealth's educational policies.

This initiative supports the development of well-rounded, productive, civic-minded citizens who make up a world-class work force focused on high-demand, high-wage careers. Done well, this effort will transform the Bluegrass and attract national attention as a model for regional collaboration on critical education and workforce needs.

BHEC will consider specific goals and targets to make a significant impact on our region. These include:

Reduce dropouts from both high school and higher education.

Improve college-going rates.

Increase the number of associate and bachelor's degree holders in the Bluegrass.

Increase the employment opportunities for the resulting highly skilled and educated workforce.

In the coming weeks and months, BHEC will continue to further define goals and specific targets. We invite you to stay tuned and watch for ways to be involved. This has the potential to transform the region in unimagined ways.