An article recently published by The Washington Monthly, a Washington, D.C.-based magazine of U.S. politics and government, argues that some of the country's most expensive and esteemed universities are not teaching or preparing students better than community colleges.
In emphasizing that "great teaching can happen anywhere," the magazine compiled its top 30 list from data on graduation rates and community college surveys. Southeast's No. 8 ranking was a "pleasant surprise," but also a reinforcement of a high regard for SKCTC already held by community and education officials, SKCTC President Dr. Bruce Ayers said.
"They recognized that community colleges already do as good of a job and, in some instances, are doing a better job than some (four-year) institutions, and that's a recognition that many of us have long had," said Ayers, who has served more than 20 years as president of SKCTC, which has five campuses - Cumberland, Harlan, Whitesburg, Pineville and Middlesboro - in eastern Kentucky.
Ayers emphasized that the list is "only one ranking."
"Of course, I was pleased with the ranking, but I certainly understand that there are other colleges out there that are doing as well as we are. Nonetheless, we're appreciative of this recognition," Ayers said.
Leading the top 30 list was Atlanta Technical College, and coming in fifth place was Hazard Community and Technical College, placing two eastern Kentucky community college systems in the top 10.
One "profound public reason" for scrutinizing community colleges, much like the four-year institutions often featured in U.S. News & World Report or the Princeton Review, is "because 43 percent of college freshmen begin their education at two-year institutions," according The Washington Monthly article.
Community colleges also have taken on the "toughest job in higher education" by teaching lower-income students, and impact "our economic future" based on how well they serve those students, the article reads.
The average graduation rate of colleges on the list - which are also compared by enrollment, tuition and fees, academic challenge and student-faculty interaction, to name a few - is almost 50 percent higher than the national average for community colleges, according to the article.
In making its conclusion that community colleges are capable of preparing students for the workforce as well and as competitively as college universities, the article stresses that, according to its research, "it's clear that the most expensive schools aren't necessarily those that teach students best."
That's the "biggest lesson" to be drawn from the list, the article states.
As for SKCTC, Ayers lists a number of factors that have contributed to the system's growth and success since its inception in 1960. Governed by the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) - the largest provider of postsecondary education and workforce training in the commonwealth - Southeast has had more educational resources within its reach than other community colleges, Ayers said.
The college system also, "very stringently," conducts its own evaluations on a regular basis and has "generously" received support from its communities, he said.
"We've been embraced in every community where we have a campus. They have so supportively and so generously helped us to excel in areas that otherwise would not have been possible," Ayers said.
He also credits the SKCTC faculty and staff: "We have one of the very best faculty and staff that anyone could have at any level of higher education. They are not only educated but are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of students."
Kyle Hatfield, a first-year student at SKCTC's Cumberland campus, said the atmosphere at community colleges like Southeast is just "better" because "you get to know everybody a lot more."
"The smaller classes really help and, I mean, we're getting taught the same stuff as most of the bigger colleges," said Hatfield, a James A. Cawood High School graduate who plans to major in civil engineering at the University of Kentucky after completing one more year at Southeast.
Accreditation for SKCTC was reaffirmed by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for a period of 10 years in June. The review, which closely scrutinized all aspects of the college's operations, resulted in praise: "Through its dedication to the community and extensive educational programs, SKCTC represents the best that community colleges in America can offer."
In addition to its general accreditation, SKCTC is also accredited for specific programs by the National League for Nursing (RN and LPN programs); National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (CLP program); Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education of the American Physical Therapy Association (PTA program); Joint Review Committee Education in Radiologic Technology (radiography); and Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (respiratory therapy).