Crossing the Finish Line: Overcoming Barriers to Community College Degree and Credential Attainment in Kentucky

By Ashley Spalding
November 26, 2012

Click here to download a pdf of the full report.

New Report Calls for More State Support to Increase Community College Completion

Need-based financial aid, student supports and developmental education strategies are vital to strengthening Kentucky’s workforce and economy

With Kentucky working to increase college graduation rates, a new report by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy (KCEP) recommends that the state invest more in support strategies that can help disadvantaged Kentucky adults and other students obtain the degrees and credentials that are necessary for family well-being and economic growth.

The report, “Crossing the Finish Line: Overcoming the Barriers to Community College Degree and Credential Attainment in Kentucky,” calls on the state to focus especially on community colleges, which will play an increasingly vital role in giving students the education they need for decent employment and a start on a career path.

“The success of community college students is critical to the state’s economic future,” said KCEP Research and Policy Associate Ashley Spalding, the report’s author. “But financial responsibilities, trouble advancing through developmental education, and a need for more student and family supports can prevent these students from graduating.”

Kentucky is working to increase the state’s number of college graduates. Currently, 32 percent of adults have a college degree; the goal is 43 percent, which means the state must add 66,825 degree-holders over the next eight years. Many of these degrees will be earned at community colleges, which tend to be the most affordable option for students and provide the minimum postsecondary degree or credential needed to obtain employment at decent wages. More than half of Kentucky undergraduates attending public institutions enroll in community colleges.

But as noted in the report, many Kentucky community college students leave school due to financial challenges—particularly with rising tuition and inadequate need-based state financial aid. Many other students enter with low skills and get stuck in developmental education courses, never completing a credential or degree. Other barriers to completion include the lack of supports including intensive academic advising and assistance with costs like childcare.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Fully funding the College Access Program, which is the only state need-based financial aid grant program that can be used at community colleges.
  • Expanding the community college system’s developmental education redesign and contextualized learning efforts, which provide innovative approaches to learning and promote students’ success.
  • Increasing student supports, such as help with childcare, transportation and emergency financial challenges, and providing more counseling.

“Kentucky is making good progress in some of these areas—like developmental education reform—but more support of those strategies is needed,” said Spalding. “And the state is clearly falling short in areas like investing in need-based financial aid. Last year 67 percent of eligible students were denied aid from Kentucky’s need-based College Access Program due to limited funds.”


The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy is a non-profit, non-partisan initiative that conducts research, analysis and education on important policy issues facing the Commonwealth. Launched in 2011, the Center is a project of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED). 

Crossing the Finish Line.pdf