Ed Lane: Before being named the second president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System on Nov. 9, 2014, you served as the KCTCS Chancellor for more than five years. As chancellor you provided systemwide leadership for academic affairs, economic development, workforce training, and research policy and analysis. How important was your prior performance and management experience in being selected as KCTCS’s new president in relation to other criteria established by the selection committee?
Jay Box: My knowledge of the history of how KCTCS had been operating was critical. But even more important, I believe, I presented a future vision to the board of how KCTCS can continue to grow and improve its system for the 21st century.
EL: Since having been appointed president, what significant changes at KCTCS have you made or announced?
JB: I’ve conducted a complete tour of the state, visiting each of our 16 colleges, meeting with over 5,000 people – faculty, staff, students, local boards, foundation boards, community leaders, business and industry leaders, and superintendents.
The point of what we called the “Out of the Box” tour was to listen to what people at the local level believed KCTCS needed to be for the next five to seven years. This is the beginning of our strategic planning process. Of course, I came in as president with ideas, but I wanted to know what the people want. As we develop KCTCS’s new strategic plan, we need to embrace what the state really needs.
EL: KCTCS enrollment increased for several years during the Great Recession (2008-2012), but it has been declining for the past two years as the economy has picked up and unemployment has fallen. How will a decrease in enrollment affect KCTCS’s future plans?
JB: It’s been a double whammy for KCTCS. In 2008, when the recession started, KCTCS saw tremendous enrollment growth. At the same time, the state legislature started cutting KCTCS’s funding. KCTCS has lost a total of $38 million, which is 17 percent of our state funding, since 2008. That’s the recurring dollars, so we have $38 million less to operate with now than we did in 2008. And because of that, and the increase in enrollment, which increased operating costs for three solid years, KCTCS was falling further and further behind.
The Council on Postsecondary Education dictates what the percentage increase of KCTCS’s tuition can be. CPE set a maximum increase that’s averaged about 3 percent over the years. The community college has increased its tuition every year to offset the loss of state funding. But what people really don’t understand is that KCTCS has a minimum of $5 million of fixed cost increases every year – utilities, facilities operations and insurance rates are all going up.
KCTCS had a $38 million reduction in state income, plus an additional $5 million a year in operating cost increases for seven years, which is another $35 million. The tuition increases haven’t enabled KCTCS to break even. Spring 2012 is when KCTCS started seeing a decline in enrollment, and it has declined every semester since. With fewer operating dollars, KCTCS has had to make tough decisions. The system doesn’t have the money to continue all the programming that’s been offered in the past. This next year, we’re looking at reducing KCTCS’s operational budgets by $11 to $15 million. Approximately $11 million of that will be personnel costs. There will be layoffs, but most will come from retirements and positions that KCTCS is just not filling.
EL: Has the number of people attending KCTCS declined primarily because of demographics?
JB: It has. Our enrollment of 18- to 24-year-olds has actually stayed fairly constant since 2008; our growth was almost entirely with the 25-year-old-and-up demographic – the people who were unemployed. KCTCS’s decline in enrollment has been almost entirely in that group as they found employment.
EL: A major requirement in economic development is the availability of an educated workforce to meet employers’ needs. How is KCTCS helping in workforce development?
JB: It’s a two-pronged approach. First, KCTCS provides customized workforce training through our Workforce Solutions Division. Our employees meet with the company and design the training program the company needs to either enhance the skills of their current workforce or to “onboard” new employees. Now, the critical piece that will help that company’s future success is developing a pipeline of new workers, so our Workforce Solutions Division then meets with our academic division and quickly works with faculty and the company to design a curriculum and a program to put students into a pipeline, so they can graduate and go directly into those companies.
EL: Do students like this educational option?
JB: Yes. Several years ago, Toyota and Bluegrass Community Technical College worked together to develop what’s called the Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program, which is now a national model. Students in that program go to school two days a week and then work for Toyota three days a week. Toyota offsets their tuition costs, pays them for the work they do, then guarantees them a job if they successfully complete the program. The curriculum was designed by the faculty at BCTC and Toyota executives to pinpoint the competencies needed in advanced manufacturing. The actual curriculum is delivered by the Bluegrass faculty on-site at Toyota, and then, as their lab experience, the students are in the work environment at Toyota three days a week.
The work-and-learn program is outstanding. It’s the kind of workforce development program that KCTCS believes should be replicated across the state in all the different employment sectors, not just advanced manufacturing.
EL: How enthusiastic are Toyota, Ford, GM and auto suppliers about the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education, or KY FAME, which uses the general template created by the AMT program to teach industrial workplace job concepts in conjunction with the professional “soft skills” employees need?
JB: Very much so. KCTCS has a representative on the state board of KY FAME (which began in Central Kentucky in 2013). As the state KY FAME group has reached out recently to create chapters in different regions of the state, it has not had any problem getting groups of interested manufacturers together. Skilled workers for manufacturing jobs are a high priority right now.
EL: Is KY FAME a good example of using the free-market enterprise system to get several companies together and to organize a training program without a lot of government intervention?
JB: KCTCS has received numerous calls for information about our program and the Toyota Advanced Manufacturing Training model. It is really exciting. Because of the partnership between the manufacturers and our colleges, and the faculty relationship with the manufacturers, KCTCS can upgrade and deliver the curriculum quickly to meet a company’s specific workforce needs. We think that’s the wave of the future.
EL: Does the fact that an individual company is fulfilling its training needs make the program more powerful because it is designed for a specific business?
JB: Yes. It is also exactly what higher education needs to help drive changes in the educational system. Community colleges are known for being responsive, and KCTCS tries its best to do that. But to have these organizations jump in there and say, we want to help you and we’ll give you the road map and let’s go after it – that is great. They’re sponsoring some of those students. At any time, they can say, OK, our needs are met, we’re going to pull out of this, and then maybe some other manufacturer will step in at that point.
EL: Does the Jefferson Community College have a similar work-and-learn program with Ford Motor Co.?
JB: Yes. And Greater Owensboro just finalized its KY FAME group last week and Lincoln Trail (Elizabethtown and Bardstown) has finished its manufacturing partners list. Both Bowling Green and Somerset are looking at their models. Northern Kentucky and Louisville are the others with new KY FAME chapters. Maysville, Murray, Paducah and Pikeville are assessing. KCTCS has six colleges involved right now and will probably have eight to 10 colleges working with KY FAME as organizations get up and running.
EL: In different parts of the state, manufacturers may have different needs. Would the planning of those programs follow the same formula?
JB: Yes. KY FAME is a statewide organization, and it helps the regional KY FAME design their programs. Most manufacturers are pretty much in agreement with what competencies and skill sets they want, so it’s just a matter of designing the delivery. That can vary according to the region and manufacturers agreeing to pay for a certain number of slots; one manufacturer may say, “I will provide two (student-worker) slots,” and another manufacturer says, “We’ll provide 10.” But normally a cohort in the manufacturing program is around 15-22 students per class. We might start a cohort in the fall, and they will go through an 18-month program, and then another cohort will start, and we’ll rotate those.
EL: How are students recruited for these programs?
JB: When a program is promoted, there are many more students who are interested than there are slots available. Selecting students is a joint process between the manufacturer and the college, because it is a competitive type of program. The student has to commit to going to school two days a week and working three days a week. So it’s not like a traditional college program where the student goes to class and then is free to do whatever they want outside class. The student is going to be working and realizes they will get the job upon successful completion of the program.
EL: Is there a waiting list to get into these programs?
JB: KY FAME is just getting started around the state, but Bluegrass (chapter) has had a waiting list for its program with Toyota. To offset that, Bluegrass has an industrial maintenance technology program on another campus. Students who don’t get into the Toyota AMT program can enroll in the other program. Most of the applicants are traditional students, 18 to 24 years old.
EL: How is KCTCS’s relationship with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development (KCED)?
JB: It’s been going great for the last two years. Gov. Steve Beshear brought the Economic Cabinet, the Workforce Cabinet and KCTCS together, and said, we need you all to be more unified in your efforts for economic development. KCTCS committed a new position, a vice chancellor of economic development, whose primary focus is to basically work within KCED to know what’s going on in the recruitment or expansion of new businesses around the state. We immediately then bring to the table the workforce training that KCTCS can provide for those companies and make available funding that we call “KCTCS Trains” dollars. Those are dedicated incentives to help offset the training costs for companies when they expand or locate a new business in Kentucky.
EL: What are some of the other training programs KCTCS offers to individuals who are eager to earn higher income by learning new skills?
JB: Sticking on the workforce side, there are five major sectors that KCTCS focuses on that are tied back to the major employment sectors in Kentucky. We’ve already mentioned advanced manufacturing. Then there’s energy, healthcare, logistics and transportation, and business/information technology. Healthcare is, of course, huge, and it’s big at each of our 16 colleges.
KCTCS doesn’t forget that more than half of its students are transfer students, who earn an associate’s degree and then transfer to a state university.
EL: What is the present relationship and level of cooperation between KCTCS and the commonwealth’s public university system? Do KCTCS credits transfer to private colleges?
JB: One of my first accomplishments as chancellor in 2009 was to work with provosts at the University of Kentucky and Western Kentucky University to write a transfer action plan to make credit transfers more seamless. KCTCS worked with state Rep. Carl Rollins and state Sen. Ken Winters to write the transfer bill that was passed in 2010 and makes all KCTCS courses transferable directly into Kentucky public universities. For the private universities, KCTCS has really good transfer agreements with each of them. Private universities are often the first transfer choice for our students.
EL: Eastern Kentucky is working hard to boost the quality and expertise of its workforce so the region can provide well-trained employees for available jobs. How is KCTCS involved with Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR)?
JB: The SOAR initiative is another exciting initiative for our state, to help change the future economy of Eastern Kentucky. The first emphasis is on information technology (IT) fields – in particular, coding. KCTCS has some outstanding IT programs, and we’re quickly ramping up more courses and programs at our five colleges that are involved with SOAR.
But we’re not stopping at just IT fields; we’re also looking at entrepreneurial and business-related type programs. That is also a focus of SOAR.
EL: Do coding jobs pay well because they are technology jobs?
JB: Right now they pay very well; there’s high demand. Jobs will probably be in the $50,000 to $60,000 range. That was the first emphasis: How do you help a coal miner who was making that much money find a new career that can pay a similar amount but does not take years and years of retraining and retooling?
EL: How is KCTCS helping entrepreneurially inspired individuals who want to start their own business?
JB: Right now most of the entrepreneur programs are within our business programs, but we’re looking at expanding that. We’re hoping students will be able to incorporate entrepreneurial courses into other fields, so they can use good business practices in starting up a new company using their talents.
EL: Does KCTCS need funds for any critical capital investments?
JB: In the 2014 legislative session, a bill was passed that allows KCTCS, for the first time, to use (government) Agency Bonds to build one project at each of its 16 colleges. It’s called the BuildSmart Initiative. Seventy-five percent of that funding is from agency bonds, which the state must authorize; KCTCS charges a fee to its students over a period of years to help retire the debt. The other 25 percent of the funding comes from private donations. Three of our colleges are completely through with their fundraising and able to start with their designs. One building is under construction in Paducah, located in the downtown arts district.
EL: Will KCTCS be initiating any other new educational programs soon?
JB: It’s not necessarily new programming; it’s the way KCTCS will deliver its programs. What KY FAME and the AMT program have taught us is that there’s much more need for KCTCS to be working with apprenticeships and internships: work-and-learn programs such as the Toyota-Bluegrass connection, where the coursework is delivered in a timeframe that allows the student also to do an internship or apprenticeship. That gets the student connected to a career early on and helps reinforce what we’re doing in the classroom in a true work environment. That’s the No. 1 thing we’re looking at.
No. 2 is online education. KCTCS has been one of the national leaders and innovators in this area. We’re now finding ourselves needing to upgrade what we’re doing in online education. Even though we’re doing a great job, we feel we need to review because the technology for online learning has improved so much.
EL: KCTCS’s statewide headquarters, where we are doing this interview, is in Versailles, Ky. Are you pleased with the quality of life and work environment in Versailles?
JB: Woodford County has been great for our state headquarters. It’s a great location, 15 minutes from Frankfort, 15 minutes from Lexington, 55 minutes from Louisville. It’s also fairly centrally located for our 16 colleges. As you’ve seen downstairs, we have a wonderful conference center, which allows us to conduct statewide meetings with our college representatives in a nice conference center. Also, our side of the bargain with Woodford County when KCTCS revamped this building was that it would make the conference center available at no cost for community events and organizations. People from all over now use our facility.
EL: Do you have a closing comment?
JB: One of the things I’m most proud of is KCTCS’s recognition across the nation. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, an independent organization that does research across the United States, recently studied KCTCS. NCHEMS reviewed KCTCS from 2000 to 2013 to evaluate what a statewide system can do on a national level. KCTCS ranked in the top five in almost every category – for improvement, degrees delivered, enrollment growth and credentials earned. KCTCS’s reputation across the nation is without a doubt one of the best. We’re proud of that, and we don’t want to see it decline. That’s why I say my vision is to “Take us forward.” n