It has been a little more than two decades since the General Assembly passed far-reaching reforms of our public postsecondary schools, and without a doubt one of the most successful elements of that work was the creation of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.
Because the University of Kentucky oversaw most of the state’s community colleges at the time, the decision to combine these schools with our technical colleges initially caused some concern, but there is near-universal agreement now that this was the right step to take. Early last week, KCTCS President Dr. Jay Box re-affirmed that assessment during testimony to the legislature’s Education Committee.
According to his presentation, these schools now teach 40 percent of our undergraduate students – more than 100,000 overall each year – and they also award tens of thousands of credentials annually to certify specific workplace training in such areas as healthcare, technology and aviation maintenance. In fact, KCTCS educates more than four-fifths of Kentucky’s skilled trades workers.
One of the system’s strongest attributes is its flexibility. In the last three years alone, it has added nearly 300 new programs and certificates while 570 others were suspended because demand has dropped.
Another thing in KCTCS’ favor is that nearly every Kentuckian is just a short drive away from one of its classrooms. It has 16 main colleges – including Maysville’s, of course – and more than 70 total campuses.
That extensive reach is not just helping college students and those in the workforce who need or want additional training; it’s also making it much easier for high school students to enroll in dual-credit courses that earn them college credit. KCTCS teaches half of those students, and their families are saving about $11 million in tuition because the state subsidizes a portion of the cost.
Dr. Box said the number of those taking these classes has grown substantially in recent years, with last year’s numbers coming in 45 percent higher than they were in 2012. That’s due in part to the renewed focus the General Assembly placed on this program back in 2016.
When taking a look at the “Big Picture,” Dr. Box said that the investments Kentucky has made in KCTCS have led to real progress beyond the campuses themselves. KTCTS alumni have boosted their incomes by more than $2 billion each and every year, and for every dollar a student spends at a KCTCS school, he or she sees a $5.80 increase in lifetime earnings and governments get $3.40 in additional taxes and public-sector savings.
As these numbers help show, Kentucky’s decision in 1997 to bring together its community and technical colleges has made a profound difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians and the commonwealth as a whole. That is certainly a milestone worth celebrating, but we must not let that be the end of the story. My hope is that, when we look back two decades from now, we will continue to see the same upward trend that has defined KCTCS since its creation. There’s every reason to believe we can make that happen.