Why are so many Kentuckians content with low-paying jobs? This is a question we at The Kentucky Community and Technical College System are asking ourselves after research showed that 75% of Kentucky’s undereducated adults have no interest in pursuing 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 study among prospective students reveals that one of the primary challenges is the lack of interest on the part of undereducated adults to pursue any type of postsecondary degree. Kentucky does not have a strong college-going culture. The state ranks near the bottom in the percentage of those age 25-plus with at least a high school diploma or equivalency. The same is true for associate and bachelor’s degrees.
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A Sept. 2021 report from the Kentucky Chamber states that at any time, there are as many as 100,000 open jobs in Kentucky, and that 65-85% of those jobs require education and training beyond a high school diploma or GED.
Additionally, projected job growth over the next 10 years in the health care/social services, transportation/logistics, manufacturing and business and information technology sectors will further increase demand for skilled workers. Current job demand and projected job growth combined with poor educational attainment and labor force participation has resulted in a workforce crisis in Kentucky, harming the productivity of industry and deterring future investments, according to the Chamber report. The situation is even more embarrassing when looking at our neighboring states. Only West Virginia has worse numbers.
Of course, our aging population and retirements play a role in our shrinking workforce. But, if those of working age do not have the skills and education today’s jobs demand, Kentucky will fall even further behind.
So, what’s holding people back when it comes to furthering their education? Of the small percentage of adults who do have an interest in training and education, many have financial concerns, childcare issues, transportation issues and lack of self-confidence.
To these folks, I’d like to offer some advice: Call your local community college. College doesn’t have to 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 get people started in good careers. For those who want to earn 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. It’s less than half of most universities. Additionally, about 80% of our students receive some type of financial aid, and most of that is scholarships and grants, not loans.
A good example is the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship. It provides free tuition for many of our programs, including those that are a semester or less up to an associate degree.
There are many ways KCTCS can help Kentuckians have a better life and improve workforce participation through education. April is Community College Month and it’s a good time learn about how Kentuckians can move into good careers.
Higher education matters, and for those looking to improve the lives of their families, community college is a great place to start.
Come on Kentucky! We can do this! Let’s get trained, get to work and get our state moving in the right direction!
Dr. Paul Czarapata is President or Kentucky Community and Technical College System