Home » Op-Ed: Community colleges quickly adapting to changing times

Op-Ed: Community colleges quickly adapting to changing times

Gateway President/CEO Fernando Figueroa
Gateway President/CEO Fernando Figueroa

By Fernando Figueroa

As we continue our ongoing battle with COVID 19, which shows few signs of letting up anytime soon, our families, communities, businesses and educational organizations need to find new ways to do old things to navigate through these troubling times.

Fortunately, the 16 colleges that make up the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, including Gateway Community & Technical College in Northern Kentucky, of which I am president/CEO, are designed to quickly adapt to changing times.

Last week, Gateway announced that we will start our fall classes in a variety of formats, including online classes, face-to-face classes with social-distancing protocols in place, and some options that are a mixture of both.

As our state slowly reopens its economy, Gateway and other KCTCS colleges are making new investments to allow them to adapt to this new normal and to help Kentuckians return to work or move up in the organizations in which they are currently employed.

We are doing this through innovative, employment-based curricula that serves local industries and programs that make it easier for students to attend classes, such as holding classes at night for people who work during the day and providing childcare services for students with families.

We also are helping to address two critical issues — economic inequality and college affordability — that has been exacerbated by the current health and economic crisis. Prior to March, when the shutdown began, many Kentuckians already were saddled with substantial student-loan debt and/or couldn’t find sustainable work after obtaining a college degree. These issues are even more pronounced today because our national unemployment rate has soared from a record low of 3.8 percent in February to 14.4 percent in May and 11.3 percent last month and the temporary hold on repaying federal student loans approved by Congress is expected to end on Sept. 30.

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KCTCS’ programs make a college education more affordable for Kentucky high school graduates and they also enable adult workers to be more productive, earn higher wages, and help their companies remain competitive in the global economy.

At Gateway, three primary goals drive everything we do:

  • Enhancing education and training access;
  • Creating engaging and relevant curriculum; and
  • Removing barriers to higher education.

We do this is by offering dual-credit options to local high school students so they obtain college credits before graduation, which allows them to get college degrees faster and cheaper. We also offer innovative programs with community partners like:

  • GED Plus, a tuition-free college certificate for employees working toward high-school equivalency degree;
  • Gateway2NKU, a partnership that provides transfer assistance to Gateway students working toward the completion of an associate degree with future plans to transfer to NKU.
  • LIFT the Tri-State, a free, 10-week job-training program in logistics, inventory management, facilities management, and transportation that allows participants to obtain certificates in seven different fields; and
  • The Enhanced Operator Program, a collaboration with the Life Learning Center and local manufacturers to create a competency-based, industry-aligned curriculum meeting the needs of employers and their workforce.

Gateway offers classes, programs, and certificates in fields where jobs are readily available, such as jobs requiring commercial drivers’ licenses or in the areas of computerized manufacturing and machining, HVAC, and utility linework. Our full-time tuition costs (based on 12 credit hours per semester) reduces the cost of a four-year degree in our region by at least half.

We also make college affordable through Work Ready Kentucky Scholarships, which provide up to 60 credit hours of free tuition for students pursuing careers in healthcare, manufacturing, construction/trades, logistics, business, or IT, or through more than 40 other scholarships funded by the Gateway Foundation and others.

Gateway — and Kentucky’s other community and technical colleges — provides the type of training and education our state and our residents desperately need to address the new economic realities and challenges we face today. Gateway, now more than ever, is here for you.

Fernando Figueroa is president/CEO of Gateway Community and Technical College.