Category Archives: Education

Building a Robust 21st-Century Workforce in the U.S. and Kentucky

By John Gregory | 2/23/19 8:00 AM

We are living through what some experts call the fourth industrial revolution – a time when rapid changes in artificial intelligence, robotics, and other digital technologies are disrupting industries across the globe in ways that few could have imagined.

This revolution will result in exciting new products for consumers, but what it means for workers isn’t entirely clear. Cheryl A. Oldham, vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says these breakthroughs will likely lead to the automation of more and more jobs, even in service-oriented sectors like legal and accounting work.

“But things that require humans and human emotion, that’s not going to go away,” she says. “There’s going to be as much job creation out of this fourth industrial revolution as there will be automated away. It’s just going to be different.”

That will make job training even more crucial as businesses compete for workers prepared to perform the jobs of tomorrow. Oldham discussed these and other workforce development issues on KET’s Connections with Renee Shaw.

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Fostering Collaboration Between Business and Education
Finding a skilled workforce has always been a priority for employers, but Oldham says that’s especially challenging today with a growing economy, global competition, low unemployment, and the rapid pace of technological change. Given those factors, she says it’s important for business to work with all levels of education to ensure a good supply of skilled workers.

“There’s no one silver bullet,” says Oldham, “so we really focus on what we call ‘the talent pipeline,’ so everything from early education and child care all the way through to lifelong learning.”

Much of the recent focus in workforce training has been on education beyond high school. In fact almost two-thirds of jobs in Kentucky will soon require some form of postsecondary education. But Oldham says that doesn’t necessarily mean a college degree.

“We’re also in a place now as a nation where we’re comfortable saying not everybody needs to go the traditional four-year path,” she says. “I think everyone agrees some postsecondary education is critical, but what [does] that path look like and it’s not necessarily the same for everyone.”

But with jobs and jobs skills evolving so rapidly, what should schools be teaching students to prepare them for the workforce? Oldham says it’s incumbent upon business and industry to work closely with educators to communicate what capabilities they need in workers now and will likely want in the future. That way educational institutions can implement the appropriate coursework to ensure students will learn the proper skills.

Oldham says business should also share that information with current and potential employees so they can determine what jobs may best suit them as they map out their career and education plans. She says workers can’t obtain the skills an employer desires unless they know what skills the job demands.

“Obviously you want to help your workers to continue to advance and train and lifelong learn,” says Oldham, “but it’s also in the company’s best interest to ensure that they have the talent that they need.”

Specific Challenges for Kentucky
With strong economic growth and record unemployment, there are more than 6.5 million jobs open across the nation, according to Oldham, who is also senior vice president of the education and workforce program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

“Those are interesting data points,” she says, “but it really is not useful unless you drill down into what do you need in Kentucky, and what do you need in Lexington versus what do you need in Louisville because they could be very different.”

In the commonwealth, officials are focused on five key employment sectors: construction and trade skills, advanced manufacturing, transportation and logistics, business and information technology, and health services. The state is fostering partnerships among business and industry, high schools and colleges, and related organizations to ensure that young people and adults are prepared for jobs in those areas.

“When it comes to workforce and this idea of trying to manage the talent pipeline and align resources, Kentucky, with the leadership of the Kentucky Chamber [of Commerce] and the Kentucky Chamber’s Workforce Center, is doing amazing work,” says Oldham.

The state chamber is also partnering with the U.S. Chamber on a project called Job Data Exchange, or JDX, to use technology to standardize job postings. Oldham says the goal is to improve communication between employers who are looking for certain skills, and job-seekers who may have those capabilities or want to develop them.

But are Kentuckians ready for the jobs that will emerge in the fourth industrial revolution? Oldham says that could be difficult for some older workers, or for those who have held the same job their entire careers.

“It’s very easy to sit back and say ‘retrain,’” she says. “There’s going to be a certain population of folks that just won’t be able to do it… but I think many will.”

That’s where collaboration between businesses and education is key. Oldham says that will benefit students of any age.

“We need everybody off the bench and in the workforce, especially now. So what do we do to support that?” she says.

“We’ve got to create a culture starting from very young of agility and this idea of lifelong learning and that you’re not going to have one job,” says Oldham. “You’re going to train and you’re going to have a job, and you’re going to train some more and you’re going to have a different job.”

Related Stories:
Pathways for Tomorrow’s Workforce: A KET Forum

Ky. Labor Dept. Sec. Ramsey on Increasing Apprenticeships and Other Topics

Training Kentuckians for Today’s and Tomorrow’s Jobs

Help Wanted Kentucky

Addressing Early Childhood Development in the Commonwealth

By John Gregory | 2/16/19 10:00 AM

Kentucky will be better able to prepare children to lead happy, healthy, productive lives thanks to a new $10.6 million federal grant. The money will be used to help the state’s youngest children receive the best learning experiences possible and to ensure that parents and other caregivers have access to the resources needed to make that happen.

Linda Hampton, the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, appeared on KET’s Connections to discuss the grant and other state efforts to improve education and brain development in children.


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The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Preschool Development Grant covers activities for children from birth to age five. Kentucky was one of six states in the nation to be awarded the highest amount of $10.6 million.

Hampton says the state will use the funds for five core activities:

  • Conduct a statewide analysis and needs assessment of early childhood learning in the commonwealth.
  • Use that information to create a strategic plan to guide the state going forward. She says it’s been almost 20 years since Kentucky’s last early childhood strategic plan.
  • Improve parental knowledge of the importance of early childhood learning and about the availability of programs to help them and their children.
  • Upgrade training and professional development for educators and create a clearinghouse for best practices in early childhood.
  • Improve the overall quality of early childhood care and education in the commonwealth.

“Oftentimes people will say, ‘It’s a quality program,’ but do people know what a quality program is,” says Hampton.

The current grant covers the first year of work. The state can apply for additional funding to cover subsequent years of programming to support early childhood development.

Making the Most of Learning Opportunities
Children begin to learn even before they leave the womb, according to Hampton. That’s why she encourages expectant mothers to read aloud to their child and play music for them even before they are born.

“The sponginess of a brain of a child is starting when the woman is carrying the child,” Hampton says. “Ninety percent of a child’s brain is developed by the time a child is five years old.”

Once the child is born, they begin learning in every setting, whether that’s at home with their parents or caregivers, in a daycare facility, or in a public pre-kindergarten program. Hampton says children can acquire some skills at home, such learning numbers and the alphabet, and how to perform basic tasks. In a more formal daycare or educational setting, children would be assessed on their skills, and exposed to different areas of learning and social development.

“All of that does lead into us being able to function within society,” says Hampton.

The early years are also key to a child’s emotional development, even if they don’t yet have the vocabulary to express themselves.

“It’s very important to help a child understand their voice, that it is important to communicate your feelings,” Hampton says. “That is one of the greatest attributes of early care and education, is communication in feelings.”

Resources for Parents and Caregivers
Hampton says the state has a variety of services and programs available to parents to help ensure their children get off to a good start in life. First, there’s Kentucky Health Access Nurturing Development Services, also known as the HANDS program, from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. It provides new and expectant parents with one-on-one training on how to care for a newborn and respond to their needs as they grow, how to keep the baby safe, and simple activities for stimulating the child’s brain development.

“[Parenting] books do not explain to you all the hands-on support that you need,” says Hampton. “What is wonderful about the HANDS program is that they do come into your home, they are learning with you.”

The Governor’s Office of Early Childhood partnered with First Lady Glenna Bevin on several books for young children. One encourages kids to dream about what they want to be when they grow up, while another explores the concept of family. With some 10,000 children in state care, Hampton says its important for kids to know they can create their own families, even if they’re adopted, live in a foster home, or are being raised by a relative or neighbor.

“Family is absolutely where it starts,” she says, “and the definition of a family truly lies with the child in how they see that.”

Hampton says her office is also developing mental health supports for young children, including training and screening tools to help caregivers look for signs that a child may be trying to tell them that something is wrong in their lives.

For more information about the family and community resources available from the state, visit the Office of Early Childhood’s website.

Building Tomorrow’s Workforce
Positive learning experiences aren’t just critical for a child’s development. Hampton says they’re also important for the future of the commonwealth.

“Early childhood is the bedrock for human capital,” she says. “To have a quality workforce, you must have a quality early care and education opportunity.”

In fact, the Kentucky Business-Education Roundtable of the state Chamber of Commerce made investing in early childhood and preschool the top priority in its recent report on developing top-tier workforce talent. It calls on the state to create more access to high-quality preschool program for at-risk children, to develop special literacy programs for young children who are already falling behind, and ensure that early childhood programs are meeting quality standards.

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School Safety: A KET Forum

By John Gregory | 2/12/19 8:30 AM

It was early Tuesday morning, Jan. 23, 2018. Near Benton, Ky., students were gathering for another day of classes at Marshall County High School.

But instead of calculus and English, history and biology, students found themselves learning the harsh realities of life and death. A 15-year-old boy allegedly drew a handgun and opened fire on his classmates, killing two and injuring more than a dozen others.

“For the most part school is looked at as a safe haven,” says Marshall County Superintendent Trent Lovett. “I felt like we were as safe as any school district in America. And then it happened here.”

The massacre sent shockwaves through the commonwealth, especially in Frankfort, where lawmakers spent the following days offering ideas for making Kentucky schools safer, from hiring more school resource officers to arming specially trained teachers.

Instead of rushing legislation through the 2018 General Assembly, lawmakers decided to form a bipartisan School Safety Working Group to study the issue in depth, and then propose legislation in the 2019 session. The results of their efforts are embodied in Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 1, wide-ranging school safety measures that have already gained substantial support on both sides of the political aisle.

KET convened a special forum to discuss school safety and the legislation that lawmakers have proposed. The guests included state Sen. Max Wise and Rep. John Bam Carney as well as educators, students, law enforcement personnel, and counselors.


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Marshall County High School football player Devon Evans will carry the memories of the shooting with him for the rest of his life. His left shoulder bears the scar from a bullet wound he sustained that January morning. Around the scar, Evans got a tattoo that commemorates the two friends he lost in the shooting: Bailey Holt and Preston Cope.

“It’s definitely hard to know that Bailey and Preston aren’t here today – they were the two nicest people you’d ever run into,” says Evans. “But it’s happened, and you’ve got to show everybody that, no matter what happens, you can always move on and show that life always goes on.”

In the wake of the shooting, Marshall County administrators installed metal detectors and security cameras, limited access points to the school, banned backpacks, and hired four additional school resources officers (SROs).

“They can’t just be a person in a uniform, that’s standing with their arms crossed and not communicating,” says Lovett of the SROs. “They have to be able to relate to our students, and the resource officers that we selected are phenomenal.”

The high school also added two mental health counselors as part of the effort to help students feel physically and psychologically safe

“It’s important we let them know they matter to us,” says Marshall County High School Principal Patricia Greer. “We communicate that and give them different options of coping skills and different people they can talk to.”

Like the physical scar on Devon Evans’ shoulder, the emotional scars from the shooting remain with the student body as well.

“It’s something we’re going to live with forever,” says MCHS senior Kat Howard. “We’ll never be completely over it, but each day gets better.”

Lawmakers Propose School Safety Measures
In the months after the Marshall County shooting, the 16-member School Safety Working Group travelled the state to gather public input on how to best make Kentucky’s classrooms more secure. The recommendations they heard echo the general philosophy implemented in Marshall County: harden campus security while softening the personal relationships among staff and students.

Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 1 seek to achieve both of those goals. The measures call for more mental health professionals in schools and for more thorough training of resource officers who provide security on school campuses. Senate Education Committee Chair Max Wise (R-Campbellsville), who is a sponsor of SB 1, says the bill also provides accountability provisions for schools that don’t meet building security standards and creates new state school security marshals to oversee the new measures.

“Senate Bill 1 is a comprehensive, proactive approach,” Wise says. “It’s not just about hardening schools… it’s about connecting students with faculty and staff.”

One thing the legislation does not include is a provision to arm teachers or other school personnel. That’s an idea that frequently comes up following school shootings.

“As we made our rounds through the state and talked with different professionals, there just wasn’t much support for that,” says House Majority Floor Leader and House Bill 1 sponsor John Bam Carney (R-Campbellsville).

Also missing from the legislation: a funding mechanism to help schools pay for new staff and increased training and security measures. Carney says lawmakers will likely add some funding in the 2020-2022 state budget. Until then, he says school districts will have to get creative. Wise says the legislation does allow districts to form separate nonprofit entities that can fundraise within their communities to help local schools pay for the new security and personnel mandates.

The good news is that federal Medicaid dollars can also go towards paying mental health professionals in schools. Mahak Kalra of Kentucky Youth Advocates says Medicaid will pay 70 percent, while the state will need to put up the rest.

“The great thing about this is, that 30 percent match the state will have to pay for can be used with existing local health expenditures,” says Kalra. “So there’s no additional money that is needed from our state budget.”

Kalra says the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services plans to implement the Medicaid match in the 2019-2020 school year. But that still leaves school systems scrambling for money for SROs and other safety measures. Marshall County Superintendent Trent Lovett says many schools may face some tough personnel decisions because of limited budgets.

“We’re in the education business,” says Lovett. “We want to be safe, but our number-one goal is education of our students, so it’s a difficult call for school districts to make in choosing between a resource officer and a teacher.”

The Role of School Resource Officers
Although both HB 1 and SB 1 have garnered bipartisan praise and support, some fear that increasing the number of SROs may lead to a “militarization” of schools. There’s also a concern that SROs may evolve from offering security to enforcing discipline. But Chris Barrier, president of the Kentucky Association of School Resource Officers, says that’s not the purpose of SROs.

“A school resource officer is a trained, certified, properly selected law enforcement officer placed in the school to have long-term meaningful relationships with kids,” says Barrier. “He’s a mentor, he’s a teacher, and just a very small piece of what we do is the law enforcement component.”

The legislation calls for tripling the number of training hours required for SROs from 40 to 120. SROs will learn about mental health concerns, diversity issues surrounding race and sexual identity, dealing with special needs students, and trauma-informed responses that can help troubled children.

Last year there were 173 SROs working in Kentucky schools, according to Barrier. Now there are more than 400. He says only 12 counties don’t have the officers at this point.

Wise says SROs ideally would be in all schools, from elementary to high schools. He says younger children exposed to the officers can benefit from having a mentor relationship with an SRO. But the senator acknowledges that also takes money that the state can’t afford to provide.

“Tennessee is putting $40 million in their SRO program,” says Wise. “We don’t have the revenue to do that. We would like to get there, definitely.”

Addressing Mental Health Needs
Senate Bill 1, which unanimously passed the full Senate on Feb. 8, requires schools to have one counselor for every 250 students. Dr. Joe Bargione, a retired school psychologist from Jefferson County Public Schools, says attending to the mental health needs of students is a critical part of the proposed legislation.

“What we need to do as a state is really balance what we call the physical safety – the hardening of the school – along with the psychological safety of the young person,” says Bargione. “They need to feel that they’re part of that school community, that they do have resources available to them.”

Dan Orman, training coordinator for the Kentucky Center for School Safety, agrees. He says schools can always install more locks, metal detectors and alarms, but those security features won’t be as effective without good mental health supports and strong student-adult relationships.

“When kids are not emotionally safe, they’re not physically safe,” Orman says, “and we have to have that piece first.”

Fostering good mental health in students will take more than additional counselors, though. Schools across the commonwealth are implementing innovative programs to engage teachers, staff, and students in efforts to promote better relationships in schools.

Pulaski County Schools has a program called Positive Behavior, Interventions, and Supports that works to affirm every student and encourages them to be responsible and respectful to everyone.

“We want to create climates and culture in our schools that facilitates a sense of psychological safety so that we’re able to relax and learn,” says coordinator Dusty Phelps. “Learning almost exclusively happens through relationships, it’s not just about information sharing.”

Younger students are rewarded for positive behavior with activities like free time with technology, or costume dress-up days. Older students help mentor younger students, and adults in the school check in with students at least once a day to monitor their progress on specific goals. All school staff members receive comprehensive training on youth mental health first aid, and off-site counseling services are also available for students who need it.

“As we have trained our staff to recognize and be able to respond, I think it has increased the willingness for teachers to seek out youth and encourage them to get help,” says Lori Price, coordinator of student and family support services at the Pulaski County School District.

Programs like the one in Pulaski County not only address the behavior of students, but also serve to make the overall environment of schools healthier and more productive.

“The number one protective factor for our kids is a students’ sense of belonging, and that’s closely correlated with a positive relationship with an adult,” says Rep. Lisa Willner (D-Louisville) who is also executive director of the Kentucky Psychology Association.

Another initiative that’s available in several districts around the commonwealth is called Sources of Strength. It engages both students and school faculty and staff to prevent bullying, substance abuse, and suicide.

“Sources of Strength is a totally amazing program,” says health teacher Mary Wurst of Butler Traditional High School in Louisville. “The kids… are the eyes and ears of the building. They’re the support systems. If they see a student going through something, they are the ones that reach out and personally try to help them. If they think it’s something above what they can handle or if it’s life threatening, they bring those students to either myself or one of our other adult mentors in the building.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a fifth of all young people are likely to have a mental health issue. Retired school physiologist Joe Bargione says that means about 130,000 Kentucky children may face a mental health challenge during their academic career. That puts a tremendous burden on schools that are already strapped for money and resources.

“I think it’s really a top-down approach,” says Pulaski County Schools Superintendent Pat Richardson. “You have to have leadership that identifies the problem and a board of education that will embrace the idea that we have to spend some money in this area.”

“At the end of the day, caring for each and every child that comes to school… educating them and making sure that they are safe and secure in our schools, it is all one massive task that takes everyone’s support,” says Eric Kennedy of the Kentucky School Board Association.

Broader Issues of Gun Violence
As important as the proposed legislation is, students still only spend about a third of their day at school. What about the factors that may have them feeling unsafe once they head back home?

“We have to deal with those community violence… issues in tandem with what occurs in schools,” says Emmy Sippy, a student at Lexington’s Henry Clay High School. “When students are in school, if we’re protecting them from guns there, when they get off the bus, they should also be protected from guns.”

Lawmakers Wise and Carney say gun control is, for now, a separate conversation. In this legislation, they say they want to remain focused on the greater goal of improving safety and security within school buildings.

“Many times on wedge issues that we look at, it can be very difficult to try to get everybody to come together,” says Wise. “This is the best attempt that we could make to try and come together with a comprehensive bill.”

“There’s no perfect bill or piece of legislation, adds Carney. “Legislation is not going to solve this issue. This is an issue that’s obviously going to take relationship building and so many things, but I think this framework starts us down that right path.”

Related Content:
Kentucky Tonight: School Safety

Helping Kentucky’s Youth with Mental Health Problems

KET’s Six-Part You Are Not Alone Series

YouTube: Pulaski Co. Schools’ Mental Health Programs

YouTube: Butler High School’s Sources of Strength Program

Head Start and the Benefits of Early Childhood Development

By John Gregory | 2/02/19 8:00 AM

For more than 50 years, the Community Action Council has operated the early education and nutrition program known as Head Start for thousands of low-income children and their families across central Kentucky.

As of January, the Lexington non-profit expanded its Head Start efforts to five more counties thanks to a $42.5 million federal grant.

“We use Head Start as a vehicle to move those families out of poverty by providing a very structured program that’s intended to have children prepared,” says Sharon Price, the CAC’s director of child development, “so that when they enter kindergarten, they are ready to compete and succeed in an educational venture.”

Price and CAC Director of Planning, Communications and Advancement Melissa Tibbs appeared on KET’s Connections to discuss the Head Start program. Host Renee Shaw also spoke with Alice Nelson of First 5 Lex about the benefits of early childhood development.


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Giving Kentucky Children a Good Head Start
Community Action Council for Lexington-Fayette, Bourbon, Harrison and Nicholas Counties already provides Head Start and Early Head Start programs in 19 counties. The grant will enable the organization to expand those services to Clark, Estill, Garrard, Jackson, Laurel, Madison, Powell and Rockcastle Counties.

Head Start targets children from birth to age five who come from low-income families, as well as those who are homeless or in foster care. The program provides high-quality learning experiences as well as activities to strengthen parent-child relationships.

“We want to start with children where they are, build on their individual strengths and weaknesses,” says Sharon Price, “and we develop individual goals for them and for their families, because while the children are getting a head start, we want to work with the families on building strategies to strengthen that family, which will in turn strengthen the community.”

Price says the benefits of Head Start often don’t present themselves until years later. Recent research from the University of Michigan indicates that children who attend Head Start are more likely to graduate from high school, and enroll in and complete college.

Price has seen those benefits play out in her own life. Two of her children attended Head Start as youngsters. Both of them now attend the University of Kentucky.

Head Start also provides health screenings and nutrition services that are vital to children living in poverty.

“Food security is an issue for a lot of the families that we see.” says CAC’s Melissa Tibbs. “We provide two, healthy, nutritious meals every day as well as a snack, so we’re making sure that children are fed.”

Tibbs says CAC hopes to serve about 3,000 children with the new South Central Head Start program. The goal, according to Price, is to provide children an environment where they can thrive and get the benefits of early childhood learning.

“What we do tell parents is enrollment in Head Start is optional, but attendance is not,” says Price.

First 5 Lex
The language, vocabulary, and social skills a child develops during the first years of life are foundational to later success.

But when it comes to early childhood development, the commonwealth has room to improve. According to state data, about half of Kentucky’s children enter kindergarten not prepared to learn. The problem is exacerbated for children who live in poverty, stressful family situations, or broken homes.

“Toxic stress brings on… fight, flight or freeze, and that’s what happens to their brains,” says Alice Nelson, family/community early childhood coordinator for FCPS. “It makes it very difficult for them to learn.”

To help counter these learning challenges, the Fayette County Public Schools developed a program called First 5 Lex – Read, Talk, and Play from Cradle to Kindergarten.

Nelson says First 5 Lex provides families and caregivers with tips on easy ways to foster learning in young children. She says good brain development in kids depends on healthy, positive interactions with their adult caregivers.

“It’s very powerful and important, but it’s also really simple,” says Nelson. “Read, talk and play with them… and anybody can do that.”

Nelson says talking with and reading to your child are vital, and that starts even when the child is still in the womb. She says language skills prepare a child for the other learning they will do as they grow older. If you don’t have children’s books around, read them whatever you’re reading. If you have difficulty reading yourself, then talk about the pictures in a book with the child, Nelson says. Children also need to touch and hold books, which provides important sensory stimulation.

“Children really don’t learn by drill and skill at a young age,” she says. “It’s about interacting with materials, having conversations about it, counting all the things that are in your world.”

If you need daycare for your child, Nelson suggests looking for facilities where the staff is well educated. But she admits that may be hard to find.

“So many of our child care centers do not have folks with bachelor’s degrees or teaching degrees,” she says. “The pay for the aides in the classroom is very low in child care. All of those things really need to be addressed.”

Good daycare centers also provide healthy, safe, and happy environments for children, according to Nelson. They should not be punitive, nor should they be overly structured, but should allow for outdoor play, hands-on activities, and language-rich learning opportunities.

For other early childhood learning suggestions, visit the First 5 Lex website, or explore their Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube pages.

Transylvania University President Seamus Carey

By John Gregory | 1/26/19 9:30 AM

A dozen years before Kentucky became a state, students gathered at the newly chartered Transylvania Seminary to pursue studies in religion, arts and sciences, law, and medicine. As the first college west of the Allegheny Mountains, Transylvania established a reputation as a place for high-quality education on the western frontier, training those who would go on to be U.S. vice presidents and senators, governors, and ambassadors.

Now, more than 230 years later, Lexington’s Transylvania University continues to gather accolades as one of the best four-year colleges in the country. It’s also a school that remains steadfast in its commitment to liberal arts education at a time when many universities emphasize preparing students for a specific job in today’s market.

“I look at liberal arts education as not just about workforce development or developing workforce skills,” says Transylvania President Seamus Carey. “I think liberal arts education has always done that, but liberal arts education is also about building a life.”

Carey appeared on KET’s Connections to discuss the value of liberal arts studies and his leadership of Transylvania as the school’s 26th president.


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Although Transylvania is a private college, it doesn’t just cater to the children of wealthy families. Carey says a fifth of the school’s nearly 1,000 students are eligible for needs-based federal financial aid, and almost all students at Transylvania receive some kind of assistance.

Still, Transylvania loses many prospective students to its cross-town competitor, the University of Kentucky, according to Carey.

“If you’re an in-state, Kentucky student, [UK] is a great value,” he says. “However I think we are as well, for different reasons.”

Carey says 70 percent of Transylvania students graduate in four years, so they’re not accruing additional debt by taking five or six years to complete a degree. He says the average graduate leaves Transylvania with about $22,000 in debt. Only 2 percent of his graduates will default on those loans, says Carey, compared to the national average of 11 percent. For graduates in Kentucky, he says the default rate is 15 percent.

“What that tells us is that our students are not only getting out of Transylvania and getting jobs, they’re getting good jobs and they’re able to pay back their loans,” he says.

Carey attributes that post-graduation success to the work his faculty does with students, and to a mentoring program that pairs school alumni in Lexington with young students just getting started at Transylvania. Those mentors help the students explore career opportunities and networking options in their chosen field of study.

“I want our students to pursue things they’re interested in because if they do that, they’re going to be better at it,” Carey says. “They’re going to be better students, they’re going to get better grades, they’re going to open up things that they might not even have imagined of when they came to college.”

The Value of a Liberal Arts Education
Success in today’s workforce doesn’t come only from a science or technical degree, according to Carey. He still firmly believes in the benefits of a liberal arts education.

“The idea that liberal arts colleges are not a good value is sometimes, I think, taken too far,” says Carey. “It is expensive in a lot of instances, but you’re getting a different sort of education.”

Liberal arts training, says Carey, gives students the tools to make better decisions in a multitude of life situations. He contends the current trend to encourage younger and younger children towards a specific workforce opportunity can smother creative thinking in students and harm the social fabric of the nation.

“The exposure I want to give is to what’s inside a person,” says Carey. “That exposure comes through the imagination that’s in dialogue with literature and poetry and science… To me that’s where the American creativity and the American spirit has always come from.”

In fact, Carey says that what he views as a current lack of respectful civic discourse has been caused in part from a devaluation of higher education. He says education shouldn’t be a partisan issue, even though some politicians and pundits try to make it into one.

“It’s hard to have a successful, flourishing democracy without an informed citizenry,” Carey says.

A Beacon for Civility
Carey himself is a prime example of how life-changing a liberal arts education can be. The son of Irish immigrants, Carey grew up playing basketball on the streets of the Bronx.

“That was a fun, competitive time,” he recalls. “There were no referees, there were no parents, and there were no arguments… If you fouled somebody, you gave them the ball.”

A first-generation college student, Carey was on track to become a New York City firefighter. But near the end of his undergraduate studies at Vassar College, where he majored in economics, he realized his true passion was philosophy. He got his master’s degree and Ph.D. and then served as a philosophy professor for nine years at Manhattan College, before becoming a dean at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. A leadership-training program connected him with Transylvania, and Carey was hired as president in 2014.

“It was a little nerve-wracking coming from New York to a small city,” he says, “but I’ve really fallen in love with a lot of the people here and certainly our school. I love our school.”

As Carey moves into his fifth year in Lexington, he wants to continue to build diversity on campus. About 20 percent of students are persons of color, and he says there’s still work to do in diversifying the faculty and staff. Carey has also shepherded several construction and renovation projects on campus to make dorms and academic buildings places that foster interactions among students and with faculty.

One avenue Transylvania won’t pursue, according to Carey, is to offer courses and degrees online. He says those programs only become economically viable when they are offered on a large scale.

“We’re just not situated to do that,” says Carey. “The value of our education is in the face-to-face, personal relationship and the dialogue between the faculty and the student… So we want to be really good at what we do and control the costs as best we can, and I think we’ve been doing a reasonably good job at doing that.”

This academic year, Transylvania launched a campus-wide civility initiative. The school has hosted a range of speakers, workshops, and cultural activities around the theme of civility. The effort will culminate in late March with a speech by best-selling author Salman Rushdie.

Carey says he wants Transylvania to be a “beacon of light” around the idea of civility. He says public discourse these days too often focuses on somebody being right, instead of being open to understanding and learning about the views of someone else.

“And in order to learn, you have to have an element of humility because you have to acknowledge that you don’t know yet what you have to set out to learn,” he says.

“If a society is going to evolve and get better, learning has to take place,” says Carey. “I think college campuses are models of that and so we try to demonstrate that on a regular basis.”

EKU President Michael Benson on Higher Education Challenges and His New Book

By John Gregory | 1/19/19 9:00 AM

In the book “College for the Commonwealth,” co-author Michael Benson makes the case that higher education is crucial to fostering an informed, engaged, and productive citizenry that benefits all Americans, not just the one who attend a college or university.

That’s especially true in Kentucky, which Benson says is fortunate to have a robust system of higher education, from highly regarded private institutions like Transylvania University and Centre College, to the network of public research universities, regional universities, and community college campuses.

“It should be something we should appreciate and cherish and promulgate and support,” says Benson, “and we’ve got to do a better job of making that case.”

Benson is the 13th president of Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond. He appeared on KET’s Connections to discuss the contributions of higher education to a civil society, and the challenges EKU and other schools in the commonwealth face today.

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A School for All of Kentucky
EKU began as the Eastern Kentucky Normal School in 1906, but its roots go all the way back to a private college called Central University, which was founded in Richmond in 1874.

Now the school has an enrollment of more than 14,000 and a service region of 22 southeastern Kentucky counties, but Benson says the school attracts students from across the commonwealth.

“Ninety-two percent of our freshman class this last year was from the state of Kentucky,” he says. “While we say Eastern Kentucky University describes who we are, it doesn’t define who we are. We really, in a lot of ways, are Kentucky’s university in that we have the highest percentage of Kentucky students at our institution than any other place.”

Another key characteristic of EKU students, according to Benson, is that 51 percent of them are eligible for federal financial aid called Pell Grants. Those are need-based grants to low-income students which do not have to be repaid. That assistance puts higher education within reach of people who may not otherwise have the opportunity to go to college.

“We service a certain population [for whom] college is that one opportunity that is going to change their lives more than anything else,” he says.

In Benson’s five years as president of EKU, the school has seen record enrollments and improved student retention and graduation rates. He attributes some of that success to upgraded campus facilities that promote student safety and comfort.

“Students today are pretty sophisticated,” Benson says. “If they show up with their mom and dad… and you don’t have what they want in terms of a residence hall, academic space… a dining hall and a [recreation] center, their money is portable.”

Life Under Performance-Based Funding
But the past decade has not been easy for EKU and Kentucky’s other public universities. The schools have faced multiple rounds of state budget cuts, rising pension obligations, and staff and faculty downsizings.

There’s also the new performance-based funding model, which ties an institution’s state appropriation to achieving certain metrics like the number of degrees awarded, the type of degree produced (such as science and technology versus liberal arts), and whether the school is closing achievement gaps between various student groups.

Critics argue performance-based funding could benefit larger schools at the expense of smaller, regional universities like EKU that tend to serve students from rural communities that may have more economic and academic disadvantages. Benson says performance funding is here to stay, although he expects it to be adjusted over time. He credits the model with forcing schools to focus – in a positive way – on important performance outcomes.

“There’s an investment that the state of Kentucky makes in our institutions,” he says. “So are we being accountable, are we producing right degrees, are we doing it in a timely way, are we being efficient with what I would consider really sacred funds that the taxpayers of the state of Kentucky give us?”

Despite the funding obstacles, Benson says Kentucky’s higher education system is performing well, earning a B or B-plus, in his opinion.

The Case for Higher Education
State officials are also pushing the colleges and universities to better prepare students for the thousands of jobs currently available in Kentucky and positions that are expected to open in the future. That includes a greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and health-related degrees.

But that doesn’t mean liberal arts degrees are going away. Benson says those programs will continue to be important because of the benefits they offer students as they transition from school to the job market.

“It’s more than just getting job training, it’s more than just filling that cog in the machine for workforce needs,” he says. “It’s… the ability to get along with other people, to reason, to think, to write, to argue cogently… That’s what college should be about.”

Yet higher education in the United States continues to come under attack by some. Benson says some of those criticisms arise from problems the system itself has created, such as athletics scandals or problems with financial mismanagement.

Some states have also looked at reevaluating or even scrapping tenure for college faculty. Benson says tenure is core to academic life because it enables professors to be bold and outspoken without fear of losing their jobs. He also says it’s critical for smaller schools like Eastern.

“You’re going to have a hard time attracting faculty without any sort of guarantees of tenure at a place like EKU if it were to go away,” he says.

Given these criticisms, Benson says it’s incumbent for college and university leaders to make the case that higher education is fundamental, even critical, to a civil society. That’s what he does in “College for the Commonwealth: A Case for Higher Education in American Democracy,” the book he co-authored last year with Hal R. Boyd.

Benson and Boyd explored the origins of the U.S. system of higher education, and explore the benefits of postsecondary learning to students, communities, and the nation. Benson says President George Washington was among the first people to call for a national university even though he never attended college.

“He saw the inherent value in an educated citizenry,” Benson says, “because a more educated citizenry is going to be a benefit to all of us.”

Aaron Thompson on Kentucky’s Higher Education Goals

By John Gregory | 1/12/19 8:00 AM

It’s estimated that almost two-thirds of today’s jobs, or ones that will be created in coming years, will require some form of postsecondary education. But only about half of Kentuckians now have a degree or occupational credential, which doesn’t bode well for building a strong economy for the commonwealth’s future.

“There’s no such thing as great economic development in a state without a great educational system, without a highly educated workforce,” says Aaron Thompson, the new president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. “We are the key to that, but we also have to understand that we can’t do it by ourselves. That’s why we have to get industry and employers in on the front end to help us.”

Thompson became the fourth president of CPE in October of last year after having served as the council’s executive vice president and chief academic officer. He appeared on KET’s Connections to discuss preparing Kentuckians to be successful in the workforce and other education issues.

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Preparing Students for Higher Education
Given ever-evolving workforce demands, the council has set an ambitious goal of raising the percentage of Kentuckians with a postsecondary degree or certificate from the current 50 percent to 60 percent by the year 2030. Thompson says that’s not just about preparing someone for a job, but preparing them for sustained success throughout their working life.

“Not everybody needs a four-year degree,” says Thompson, “but I argue that everybody needs a postsecondary credential of some sort, whether it’s workplace certificate or PhD to be actively engaged in [the] workforce.”

But Kentucky faces several challenges to meeting that goal. Thompson says young students should have good school counseling and advising to inform them about all the potential jobs that await them and the educational paths that can help prepare them. Students also need access to more apprenticeships, internships, and other training opportunities that connect what they study in school to job experiences they can expect to have later in life.

And they need programs that can show them how they can be successful in college even if they come from families that never thought higher education would be an option.

For example, Kentucky students can now take dual-credit classes that can help them progress towards a credential or degree.

“It’s college credit, but it’s done at the high school level,” says Thompson. “The rigor is the same… If they can perform and see that they can perform college work, then in fact they will know that they can go to college and be successful.”

Last year, some 35,000 students earned more than 150,000 hours of dual credits in Kentucky, according to Thompson. He says dual-credit classes not only help students try out a career path but can also save them money by enabling them to complete their postsecondary training faster.

An Investment That Pays Off
As college tuitions continue to escalate in the wake of lower state funding, Thompson says students need to know that higher education can still be a worthwhile investment. He says many institutions have increased the amount of financial aid available to students through grants, scholarships, and other incentives. So a student may actually pay much less than the actual sticker price listed for a particular certificate or degree program.

Thompson says it’s also critical that people taking out significant student loans to pay for their educations get competent career counseling advice.

“If you have a lot of debt and you get a credential and you don’t have enough money to pay it back, then I think we didn’t do a very good job on our end to help our students know what the outcome should be,” he says.

If a student borrowed money to get a degree, completed their schooling, and got a good-paying job, then that debt was a wise investment, says Thompson. But students who take out loans to pay for a program that won’t put them on track to financial success could face default. He says school administrators need to reevaluate degrees that don’t offer a good return on the student’s investment.

“Even though you may have a lot of students in a class, if that particular program doesn’t produce a living wage, then let’s not have that program any more,” says Thompson.

That’s not to say that colleges and universities should only offer degrees in science, technology, engineering, health, or medicine. Thompson contends that liberal arts degrees are still economically viable. While so-called STEM degrees may get people higher starting salaries, Thompson says liberal arts majors are often tapped for high-paying leadership and management positions later in their careers.

Given the number of open jobs currently available in Kentucky and projected for the future, Thompson says the state will need STEM and liberal arts majors.

“It’s a both and, it’s not an either or,” he says. “Both are important to get what we need. Even those that are in technical education will need to know how to communicate, will need to know how to problem solve… will need to know all those things that we argue that good liberal arts bring you.”

An Education System That Works for All Students
Thompson is intimately familiar with many of the educational challenges young Kentuckians face. He is a first generation high-school graduate, born in Clay County to an illiterate coal-miner father, and a mother who only had an eighth-grade education. He went on to get a doctorate in sociology from the University of Kentucky and worked in business for ten years. He got into academia as a professor and later as an administrator before joining CPE.

Now as president of the council, Thompson wants to ensure that higher education in the commonwealth works for both the students who come from wealthy, educated families, and those who have backgrounds similar to his own.

“We need to actually raise the bar for all of our students,” he says. “We need to make sure all of our students can achieve – those that are the highest of academic achievers to those that are in fact trying to become a part of the academic endeavor.”

The council worked with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s Business-Education Roundtable to develop a list of priorities for improving workforce quality in the commonwealth. Thompson says those priorities include 1. investing in early childhood education and preschool, 2.making high school diplomas more relevant to today’s economy, 3. ensuring all adults get a marketable credential or degree, and 4. engaging employers in workforce development. See the full report.

Even though his focus is higher education, Thompson says he also wants to help even the youngest Kentuckians get on the pathway to a good job that will provide them success as an adult.

“We have to understand how to align students with the career choice that’s good for them,” he says. “That’s why we need to start doing it earlier versus later.”

That includes strong early childhood education, which research shows can reduce the likelihood of a youngster being poor and requiring public assistance when they grow up. Thompson says Kentucky needs universal pre-kindergarten for three- and four-year olds. He says the stronger educational foundation children have, the better prepared they will be for academic success in high school and in college.

“Early childhood matters,” says Thompson. “If I was asking for one thing for higher ed, I would say that we really create a wonderful pre-school program in Kentucky… because that gets to me sooner or later.”

Even if every toddler today becomes an occupational-certificate or college-degree holder in the future, Kentucky still won’t meet the 60 percent goal the CPE has set for postsecondary attainment. Thompson says the council is also working to help adults who have 80 or 90 college-credit hours go back to school and complete their degrees. He says there are more than 500,000 Kentuckians with existing college credits or prior learning experiences who could become degree-holders if they received the proper assistance.

Exploring Changes in Kentucky Education Policy

By John Gregory | 12/18/18 8:30 AM

Coverage of Dec. 17 Special Session Called by Governor Bevin Opened Tonight’s Program

In a surprise move Monday afternoon, Gov. Matt Bevin called a special session of the General Assembly, leaving lawmakers only four hours to convene in Frankfort. The governor wants legislators to pass a new pension reform measure less than a week after the state Supreme Court ruled the pension bill enacted earlier this year was unconstitutional.

KET’s Kentucky Tonight spoke with two members of the state House of Representatives about the special session: Rep. Jerry Miller (R-Louisville), chair of the House State Government Committee, and Rep. Derrick Graham, (D-Frankfort), who is a member of that committee. Later in the program, host Renee Shaw led a discussion about the state’s new high school graduation requirements and other education issues.


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Special Legislative Session
In striking down Senate Bill 151 last Thursday, the Kentucky Supreme Court did not take issue with the contents of the legislation, but rather the process by which it passed in the final hours of the 2018 regular session. Republican leaders replaced an 11-page wastewater treatment bill with a 291-page pension reform bill and passed the measure that same day.

Bevin, who was critical of the unanimous court decision, said yesterday “there is nothing ideal about the situation that has been put upon us.” The governor said the pension crisis is the single greatest threat to the state’s long-term financial health.

“We have a legal and moral obligation to provide and deliver on the promises that have been made,” Bevin said. “The only chance we have of doing that for those already retired and working toward retirement is to change the system going forward.”

Democrats said they were caught off guard by the governor’s call, which many of them were not aware of until Monday. In a statement released to reporters, House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook) called Bevin’s move “short-sighted” and “unnecessary” since lawmakers were just three weeks away from starting the 2019 regular session.

“This is nothing more than a continued mockery of the legislative process and an attempt to silence the public,” Adkins said. “This is a sad day for the people of Kentucky.”

Republican Rep. Jerry Miller says he first heard rumors about a special session on Saturday. He says he doesn’t believe the governor would’ve convened lawmakers if he didn’t have assurances from legislative leaders that they could pass a bill.

Miller says the new reform legislation, House Bill 1, is “almost identical” to the old Senate Bill 151 that passed in late March. and to Senate Bill 1, the original pension reform legislation proposed in February. Although a few provisions have been dropped, nothing new has been added, Miler says, so lawmakers should already be familiar with what’s being proposed.

“We’re not plowing new territory in House Bill 1,” says Miller. “Everyone that has the ability to vote on it this week had eight months of opportunity to read that bill.”

(Editor’s Note: Miller actually filed two bills Monday night. House Bill 2 also deals with pension issues. The legislature adjourned Tuesday evening without having voted on either pension measure.)

But a largely similar reform proposal would still be problematic, according to Democratic Rep. Derrick Graham. He fears the new bill would still violate the inviolable contract with teachers and public employees by reducing their pension benefits, and make it harder to recruit and retain quality workers to state jobs. Graham says calling a special session a week before Christmas further undermines public trust in the legislative process.

“This special session… it really is about destroying the public pension system,” Graham says. “It’s also about getting revenge against teachers, public employees, and retirees, and attacking and disrespecting our Kentucky court system.”

Although he has no role in the pension negotiations, Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis says it’s critical for the state to repair the pension systems that are mired in billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities.

“A failure to continue to address these significant challenges will continue to impact our ability to make strategic investments in public education,” says Lewis.

Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, agrees that action is needed. But she says where educators are concerned, the debate needs to include pay as well as benefits to ensure that the state gets the best teachers into public school classrooms.

“Total compensation needs to be part of the discussion, and we haven’t heard enough about total compensation,” Ramsey says.

High School Graduation Requirements
Earlier this month, the Kentucky Board of Education approved a new set of high school graduation requirements that would start with students in the classes of 2023 and 2024.

Although not as rigorous as he originally hoped, Commissioner Lewis says the requirements still mandate that high school graduates demonstrate basic competence in reading and math, either through test scores on accountability assessments taken in 8th or 10th grade, or with a student portfolio that proves their competency. Graduates will also have to complete a minimum of 22 course credits.

Lewis says the biggest changes to the requirements came in the area of transition readiness, which addresses a student’s preparedness for success in college or in the workforce. He says the board heard the concerns that some districts didn’t have the resources needed to help students meet the original readiness requirements the board proposed.

In place of those, the board approved “graduation qualifiers” that Lewis calls a step towards transition readiness. Students can fulfill the qualifiers by taking at least one Advanced Placement (AP) course or one dual-credit course. They can also complete the pre-college curriculum recommended by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, which Lewis says is the basic high school graduation requirements with the addition of two credits in a foreign language.

“While not exactly what I proposed initially, it represents an incredibly important step forward for Kentucky,” says Lewis, “and I’m excited about the possibilities.”

The state board of education also wanted stronger requirements, according to board member Gary Houchens, who is an associate professor of educational administration, leadership, and research at Western Kentucky University.

“In many ways the proposal that we approved is superior in that it is more sensitive to the resource needs that many of our districts face,” says Houchens, “and to the great variance in the kinds of challenges that students bring with them to the learning process.”

Eric Kennedy, director of governmental relations for the Kentucky School Boards Association, calls the new requirements a step in the right direction. But he says his organization still has concerns about how districts that face tighter budget constraints will be able to help their students meet the new state-mandated standards.

“Being an individual requirement for graduation, we thought, we cannot possibly let a student not graduate from things that were not in their control or even in their school district’s control,” Kennedy says.

While the new standards set the minimum requirements for high school graduation, they may not actually set meaningful requirements, says Brigitte Blom Ramsey. She says simply setting a bar for students to meet doesn’t mean graduates will actually be successful or be ready to enter college or the workforce.

Ramsey says districts statewide need a level of funding that will allow them “to radically rethink what high school looks like and how students experience high school so that they’re not only mastering the content that we know they need… but they also have opportunities to apply what they’re learning [and] to be exposed to rich opportunities in career pathways.”

While the new requirements are tougher than the state has had before, Lewis admits the bar for graduation is still low. He says it’s up to local districts to take the state minimums and build upon them given the resources they have available.

Kennedy says the board wanted to pass something that would achievable for every district at the present time. He contends that even setting these minimum standards increases the value of a Kentucky high school diploma to graduates.

Other Education Issues
Public school funding remains a core concern among education advocates. Ramsey and Kennedy say there’s been a decrease in school appropriations, especially since the 2008 recession. But Lewis says that’s not the case when you include money the Bevin administration has allocated for the pension systems.

“When you look at total spending on education in Kentucky for the last five to seven years, you actually see significant increases,” Lewis says. “I would argue and very few people would disagree that spending on public education teachers, employees, and their benefits is education spending.”

Kennedy says during peak funding years in the early 1990s after passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, public education appropriations including pension contributions amounted to 52 percent of the state’s General Fund. Now, he says it’s closer to 43 percent.

Ramsey says additional funding is also needed to address a recent decline in math skills among students.

“If we want to increase [academic achievement and postsecondary success], we need to look at increasing the proficiency of math and the effectiveness of mathematics teaching in the state,” she says. “That’s going to require a commitment to teaching and a commitment to professional development.”

Ramsey and Lewis agree that effective teachers and high-quality classroom experiences should be available to every student in the commonwealth.

News of the Week: December 7, 2018

12/08/18 9:00 AM

Journalists from around the state discuss the news of the week with host Bill Bryant. Scheduled guests: Adam Beam, Associated Press; John Cheves, Lexington Herald-Leader; and Mandy McLaren, Louisville Courier Journal.

Kentucky State University President M. Christopher Brown II

By John Gregory | 11/10/18 8:30 AM

When M. Christopher Brown II became the 18th president of Kentucky State University, he knew the job would be a challenge.

In recent years the land grant, historically black college in Frankfort accrued a $7 million deficit, endured declining enrollments and graduation rates, and dropped 645 students for unpaid bills. With state budget cuts to higher education, KSU even faced the possibility of closing its doors.

Brown, who became president in 2017, says he hopes to lead a renaissance at the school.

“Kentucky State’s an exceptional institution,” says Brown. “One hundred and thirty-two years of history and progress, but the last decade has not been the kindest for us for lots of reasons, and so this is an opportunity to revitalize.”

Brown appeared on KET’s Connections to discuss his plans for the school, efforts to improve student retention and graduation rates, and state funding concerns.


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The KSU post actually marks Brown’s return to the commonwealth. The South Carolina native and former elementary school teacher got his master’s degree in education at the University of Kentucky. He says he arrived in Lexington by Greyhound bus and carting all of his belongings in 11 boxes.

“I lived in a one-room efficiency off of Versailles Road and had a wonderful time at UK,” Brown says.

After earning a doctorate degree at Pennsylvania State University, Brown served as president of Alcorn State University in Mississippi and provost at Southern University and A&M College System in Louisiana. He has also held executive positions at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the United Negro College Fund.

One of the problems that Brown says he found upon his arrival at KSU was that the school lacked a clear path to success.

“There’s scripture that says ‘Write the vision, make it plain, that he that readeth it may run,'” says Brown, who is also an ordained Baptist minister. “So I think we may have been asking people to run without having a written vision of where they were going… but now we’ve got a good roadmap.”

Addressing Student Retention
The first step, says Brown, is to recruit students who want a college degree and are academically prepared to attain one. He says in the past, KSU accepted students who had one of those factors and not enough young people who had both. Once those students are on campus, he says KSU must be equipped to help them graduate in four years and prepare them for gainful employment in today’s job marketplace.

“Four-year institutions are relatively expensive for the average family, and I don’t want to waste anyone’s money,” Brown says. “[I want] to make sure that their learner, their son, daughter, niece, nephew has a positive and successful experience, and graduates on time.”

In the past, KSU’s four-year graduation rate was as low as 6 percent, according to Brown. This year, he says he hopes that it will be at least 20 percent. Ultimately he’d like to see the school’s four- and six-year graduation rates rise to at least 70 percent.

Brown says research shows that students who leave KSU don’t drop out of college altogether, but go to other institutions and complete their degrees. He says that shows that KSU needs to improve the student experience for its enrollees.

“We’ve changed campus climate and culture to make the students want to stay,” he says. But he adds there are “still miles to go before we sleep.”

On the academic side, Brown says KSU needs to offer better cooperative and internship opportunities so students can get more on-the-job experience. As for the campus environment, Brown has plans for a new academic quadrangle as well as a clock and bell tower in front of its main library. He also hopes to put a new sculpture at the campus entrance and build new residence halls.

“When I went to college as a freshman, I went down the hall to a community shower,” says Brown. “No student is preferencing that now… They want the suites, they want the flat screens.”

To fund these projects, Brown hopes to increase charitable giving to the school and promote public-private partnerships for some campus operations like dining services and security. He also wants to boost public confidence in KSU as an institution so that more businesses will be inspired to partner with the school.

“Having more people have a vested interest in the success and the entrepreneurial profitability of the campus leads to better outcomes,” Brown says.

State Funding Concerns
Like Kentucky’s other public universities, KSU has endured dramatic cuts in recent years to the funding it receives from state government. Brown says the school is also struggling under the new performance-based funding model.

Adopted by the General Assembly in 2017, performance-based or outcomes-based funding allocates state dollars to colleges and universities based on the institution’s performance relating to key metrics of student success, course completion, and campus operations.

“I have no problems with performance funding or accountability metrics,” says Brown. “When institutions are given clear intentions on expectations and outcomes, they work to meet those, and I love an environment where that was the case.”

But most states that have performance-based funding apply the model to increases in higher education appropriations. Kentucky is applying the formula to all state funding for public universities and community colleges.

“It’s really not a performance system we’re operating. We’re operating an equilibrium redistribution system” says Brown. “That’s a little challenging, but it’s the reality in which we have to live.”

This year, KSU ranked sixth out of the eight public institutions on performance measures, according to Brown. But he says KSU got no money, while the schools in the seventh and eighth positions got millions. Over the long term, Brown fears KSU’s revitalization efforts could be hurt without changes to the funding formula.

“If we’re not careful, the progress that we have made shifting and turning the corner can be undone by an erosion of the base funding,” he says.

Promoting Student Diversity
Historically black colleges and universities were founded before the 1964 Civil Rights Act to primarily serve African American students. Brown says some HBCUs like Morehouse College in Atlanta are nearly 100 percent black, while other schools like West Virginia State University are 87 percent white.

KSU now has a near 50-50 split between students, faculty, and staff of color and those who are not. Brown says exposing students to that kind of diversity will benefit them later in their careers.

“Our students live in classrooms on a daily basis and residence halls that really prepare them for life in a global workplace,” he says.

This year Kentuckians comprise just over 70 percent of the student population at KSU. That’s up from previous years when the school attracted more students from larger urban areas in other states. Brown says KSU has a responsibility to serve students from all parts of the commonwealth, but he admits that demographic shifts make that a challenge.

“Kentucky is one of the five lowest birth-rate states in our nation,” Brown says. “Fewer children means fewer high school graduates. Fewer high school graduates means fewer college-age eligible students.”

So KSU has plans to reach beyond the traditional 18 to 24 year-olds to boost enrollment. Brown says the school will launch a “completer program” in 2019 to encourage those who dropped out of college to return to KSU and finish their degrees. The program will target adults who earned at least 90 credit hours before leaving school. Brown says those returning students will be able to earn up to nine credit hours for professional work experience.