W. Bruce Ayers, former president of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, was recently honored with the George Autry Award from the Rural Community College Alliance for lifetime achievement.
Ayers was the first — or founding — board chair of the Rural Community College Alliance. Rural Community College Alliance (RCCA) was created in 2001 to replace the Rural Community College Initiative (RCCI), funded by the Ford Foundation in 1994 and was established to assist 24 community and tribal colleges in the nation’s most economically distressed regions to move their people and communities toward prosperity.
After serving as chair for two years, Ayers continued to serve on the RCCA Board of Directors until 2011. He retired with the title of President Emeritus at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in June of this year, having served at the institution for some 45 years, the last 26 ½ as President and CEO.
Under his leadership Southeast grew from one campus to five and saw an enrollment increase from 870 students to over 5,000.
The RCCI, by way of the strategically thoughtful guidance of MDC and the Ford Foundation, provided the college with the opportunity to create a regional think-tank. This gave rise to the college earning regional and national recognition for its pioneering work in community development, including the establishment of a multi-bank community development foundation, the expansion and operation of the Benham School House Inn, the Kentucky Coal Museum and Portal 31, an exhibition underground coal mine.
Through Appalachian Center Programing and Appalachian Archives the college has utilized their rich, mountain heritage as a foundation for community engagement through public arts programs.
As impressive as the college’s community involvement has been under Ayers’ leadership, its academic and support services programs have also excelled, leading to Southeast’s recognition last year by the prestigious Aspen Institution as one of the Nation’s Top Ten Community Colleges.
Ayers attributes the college’s success to a caring and dedicated faculty and staff, a community that looked for ways to help and assist the college, a premier community college system that both challenged and supported the institution, and last, but not least, the inspiration that came from being part of one of higher education’s most successful transformation efforts, the Rural Community College Initiative, assisted ably by the Ford Foundation and MDC.