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Bluegrass Market Review | Education leans into career-readiness

Central Kentucky schools at all levels focus instruction on preparing next generation’s workforce

By Robin Roenker

After preparing in their classrooms for a day in the simulated town, Biz Town students get to work soon after arriving at Junior Achievement of the Bluegrass.
After preparing in their classrooms for a day in the simulated town, Biz Town students get to work soon after arriving at Junior Achievement of the Bluegrass.

Central Kentucky is home to some of the state’s most highly rated public and private K-12 schools, and more than a dozen public and private colleges and universities offering world-class higher education and career training. In classrooms at every level, from pre-K through professional certification and graduate degree programs, educators in Central Kentucky are devoted to preparing the next-generation of career-ready Kentuckians.

In east Lexington, Fayette County Public Schools, the state’s second-largest school district, opened its new $81.4 million Frederick Douglass High School on Winchester Road during the 2017-18 school year and welcomed a total district enrollment of nearly 42,000 students.

And with the introduction in its Bryan Station, Frederick Douglass and Tates Creek high schools of a new career-based educational structure – dubbed Career Academies –  FCPS Superintendent Manny Caulk says the district is transforming its approach to education with career-readiness as a driving goal.

The Career Academies allow students to learn in smaller, hands-on, project-based learning communities focused on a particular career interest or path.

“They transforming teaching and learning, transforming how we do school, and transforming our business and civic engagement,” Caulk says in a promotional video. “For students, in particular, it would help them connect the rigor in the classroom to make that learning more relevant to the work they’re going to be doing.”

Echoing this focus on career-training, Bluegrass Community and Technical College in early 2017 opened a $24 million Advanced Manufacturing Center campus in Georgetown, designed to prepare students for in-demand careers in Kentucky’s booming automotive and manufacturing sectors. The new facility will teach skills that allow some 1,200 students to find jobs with major Kentucky manufacturers like Toyota, 3M and other partnering agencies while they earn their degrees at BCTC.

With the launch also of the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program, announced in early 2017, access to career-training has become even easier – and far less expensive – for many residents across the state. Central Kentucky campuses of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Eastern Kentucky University, the University of Kentucky, and Sullivan University are all participating in the program, which allows Kentuckians who have a high school degree or a GED but who haven’t obtained an associate’s degree to receive tuition-free higher ed training for in-demand fields like healthcare, construction, business and advanced manufacturing.

From its inception, career-oriented education has been a hallmark at Sullivan University, where the school’s business and IT certification programs and its hospitality studies program – ranked one of the best in the nation – are among its most popular course options.

“We get quite a few (hiring) inquiries looking for graduates from our hospitality program, not only our culinary arts program but also our hotel and restaurant management programs as well,” said David Keene, executive director of Sullivan University’s Lexington campus. “Certainly, the chef is going to be the number one type of graduate (employers) are looking for. But they’re not just looking for a chef, they’re also looking for that trained person who can run the operation as well,” Keene said, noting Sullivan’s degree programs cater to employers’ needs for well-rounded, job-ready applicants.

At Morehead State University, the Craft Academy for Excellence in Science and Mathematics – a dual-credit residential high school launched in 2015 – allows some of Kentucky’s brightest students to get an early start on their higher education and career training. Program participants study also at Morehead State while finishing their final two years of high school. The high school diploma they receive is accompanied by at least 60 college credit hours.

It is modeled on the Gatton Academy at Western Kentucky University, which has been named the best high school in the United States multiple times. Craft Academy’s first graduates in May 2017 earned over $5.5 million in college scholarship offers.

“Our graduates were accepted into the crème-de-la-crème of engineering programs across the country, including MIT, Virginia Tech, Cornell, Georgia Tech, UC-Berkeley and more,” said Carol Christian, the program’s director.

Because hands-on, applied research is central to the Craft Academy experience – some students were part of an exomedicine experiment on the International Space Station, another studied ancient Mayan ruins as part of an archeological dig in Mexico – Craft students are able to get a jump-start on their chosen career paths, Christian said.

As more students realize the importance of career-driven, higher education training, many Central Kentucky colleges and universities have recorded substantial facilities and enrollment growth. In mid-2017, Centre College in Danville – regularly ranked one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges – announced plans to work with Hastings + Chivetta, a St. Louis-based architectural, planning and engineering firm, to develop a comprehensive campus master plan to outline its planned growth for the decades ahead.

At the same time, Campbellsville University broke ground on a new building at its Conover Education Center in Harrodsburg, which will offer additional classroom space, offices and a multipurpose chapel in order to meet the demands of the growing enrollment at its Mercer County satellite campus.

And, in 2017, the University of Kentucky completed the final phase of its $450 million undertaking to construct more than 14 new residence halls, the largest revitalization of campus housing in the nation. It’s a drop in the bucket of the several billion in overall spending that’s happening this decade at the school.

Morehead State University


Morehead State University (MSU) is a comprehensive public university with robust undergraduate and graduate programs, emerging doctoral programs, and an emphasis on regional engagement. MSU aspires to be the best public regional university in the South through a commitment to academic excellence, student success, building productive partnerships, improving infrastructure, enhancing resources, and improving enrollment and retention. MSU has 135 undergraduate and 70 graduate degree programs in four colleges: Caudill College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; College of Business and Technology; College of Education; and College of Science. Morehead State offers one of only five space science programs in
the country.

Craft Academy for Excellence in Science & Mathematics


The Craft Academy for Excellence in Science and Mathematics is a dual-credit residential high school for academically exceptional Kentucky students. It is housed on the campus of Morehead State University, consistently ranked as one of the safest campuses in the Commonwealth. A college-level curriculum allows students to finish high school while also completing up to two years of university coursework. The academic rigor of the Craft Academy challenges students to excel at their highest level. Study is focused on a core of math and science courses and supplemented by electives in the arts and humanities. Additionally, we offer unique, project-based STEM+X courses that enrich our students’ educational experiences and help them develop competencies in entrepreneurship and innovation, design and creativity, and civic and regional engagement.

Sullivan University


2855 Harrodsburg Road

Lexington, KY 40507

(859) 276-4357

Sullivan University offers numerous certificates, diplomas, and degrees in career-orientated programs, ranging from business, pharmacy, human resources, technology, supply-chain management, culinary and baking and pastry arts, hospitality studies, conflict management, nursing, allied health sciences and legal studies. Sullivan University has campuses in Louisville and Lexington, an extension at Fort Knox, and Centers for Learning in Northern Kentucky and Louisa, as well as an online division.