SKCTC: Making a difference in communities we serve

As I begin my first year as president of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, I’m energized about the future impact our institution can make in our region. At the same time, it’s exciting to realize how far we have come. But we also face some challenges.

It’s no secret our region has some of the highest poverty levels in the U.S. Because our students have great financial need and are often first-generation students who may not know how to navigate the federal loan system, research shows they are at greater risk for loan default. In the next few days, we will learn whether our college’s student loan cohort default rate has exceeded the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) standard for a specific three-year period. If that is the case, SKCTC could be penalized.

The DOE’s cohort default rate process is complicated, and unfortunately, colleges are held responsible for defaulters even though the college has no say in who receives aid or how much they receive. The DOE determines the amount of aid students completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) receive, regardless of ability to repay the loan. Colleges cannot deny access to students who qualify for loans. It’s important to note people who have defaulted are former students, not current ones.

This is a significant challenge, but we must keep focused on our students and always remember the difference we make in our communities. Our success lies in our ability to create the right partnerships and to recognize and respond to the unique needs of our citizens.

For instance, our area has a great need for healthcare professionals, especially nurses. In response, our college reinstated its licensed practical nursing program. Our Allied Health programs do an excellent job preparing our students for licensure, as confirmed by our high pass rates on licensure exams.

In June, we began construction on the Educational Alliance Center on our Middlesboro campus. This state-of-the-art facility will house our expanded nursing program, workforce training classes and the Aviation Technology program in partnership with Eastern Kentucky University.

Given the lagging coal economy in the area, our college is reaching out to make sure individuals who need to gain skills and credentials know about the opportunities through the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program. We have also begun the Eastern Kentucky Coal County Transformation Program (EKCCT) in partnership with Big Sandy and Hazard Community and Technical Colleges, Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) and the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP). This program targets dislocated workers from the coal industry and develops short-term training focused on the needs of industry partners.

We recently began the second phase of the Selling to the World Initiative, which promotes an entrepreneurial culture for the digital economy, providing personalized, one-on-one mentoring and workshops that train people to start and promote businesses using the internet.

We have programs that benefit our most vulnerable populations. Accelerating Opportunity is a college credit program for GED-seeking students to help them prepare for a job or continue in college for additional certification or a degree. We offer the Paths 2 Promise program in which residents of eight counties—Bell, Knox, Clay, Whitley, Perry, Leslie, Letcher, and Harlan—who receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) are eligible to apply for assistance with transportation and childcare as well as free training, work experience, internship opportunities, and a personal success coach.

Out of 1,000 community colleges across the United States, Southeast has been recognized by the Aspen Institute as being in the top ten percent of community colleges. We also were named as one of the top ten colleges in 2012.

Since 2006, Southeast has awarded a large number of credentials throughout our service area: Just over 11,000 degrees, diplomas, and certificates. Last year, we increased our number of credentials from the year before. We have also reintroduced more evening and weekend classes to better serve the needs of our nontraditional, working students.

We remain passionate about serving the needs of our communities. SKCTC provides students a pathway out of poverty, and no single force provides a greater impact over poverty than education. Our mission is to provide an accessible, affordable, quality education for all students. We’re proud of all we’ve accomplished and look forward to continuing to help people in our region have better lives.