KCTCS improves lives through education and workforce training: Opinion

Why are so many Kentuckians settling for low-paying jobs? That’s a question we at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System are asking after research showed that 75% of undereducated adults in Kentucky have no interest in pursuing an education after high school, even though 16% of Kentuckians live in poverty and our median annual income puts us at 41st in the nation.

Our survey of prospective students reveals that one of the main challenges is the lack of interest among undereducated adults to pursue any type of post-secondary degree. Kentucky does not have a strong college culture. The state ranks near the bottom in the percentage of people age 25 and older with at least a high school diploma or equivalent. The same is true for associate and bachelor degrees.

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A September 2021 report from the Kentucky Chamber indicates that at any one time there are up to 100,000 jobs open in Kentucky, and that 65-85% of those jobs require education and training beyond a high school diploma or a GED.

In addition, projected job growth over the next 10 years in health care/social services, transportation/logistics, manufacturing, and information and business technology will further increase demand for qualified workers. According to the House report, current job demand and projected job growth, combined with low educational attainment and low labor market attachment, have resulted in a labor crisis. operating in Kentucky, hurting industry productivity and discouraging future investment. The situation is even more embarrassing when we look at our neighboring states. Only West Virginia has worse numbers.

Of course, our aging population and retirements are playing a role in our shrinking workforce. But if working-age people don’t have the skills and education required by today’s jobs, Kentucky will fall further behind.

So what holds people back when it comes to furthering their education? Among the small percentage of adults who are interested in training and education, many have financial worries, child care problems, transportation problems and a lack of self-confidence.

To these people, I would like to offer some advice: Call your local community college. College doesn’t necessarily mean a bachelor’s degree, and it’s not just for 18-year-olds. Our 16 colleges offer a large number of short-term programs that allow people to launch themselves into good careers. For those seeking a degree, we offer associate degrees and have transfer agreements with universities so our students transfer easily.

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And when it comes to cost, KCTCS colleges have the lowest tuition in the state. That’s less than half of most universities. Additionally, approximately 80% of our students receive some type of financial aid, and most are scholarships and grants, not loans.

A good example is the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship. It offers free tuition for many of our programs, including those lasting one semester or less up to an associate degree.

There are many ways KCTCS can help Kentuckians have better lives and improve labor force participation through education. April is community college month, and it’s a great time to find out how Kentuckians can be geared up for good careers.

Higher education is important, and for those looking to improve their family’s lives, community college is a great place to start.

Go Kentucky! We can do it! Get trained, get to work, and move our state in the right direction!

Dr. Paul Czarapata is president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System

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