Governor Bevin’s interest in investing in workforce development is a notable priority. However, the approach outlined in his budget proposal decreases investment in the state’s primary site of workforce development: its community colleges.
The Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) is by far the state’s largest workforce development program. In 2015 the state budgeted $185.9 million for academic programs and employer services and an additional $5.6 million specifically for workforce development and training at KCTCS, according to the Legislative Research Commission’s Office of Budget Review. That far exceeds spending on other state-funded workforce programs, the largest of which are career and technical education for youth and incumbent workers ($43.8 million), vocational rehabilitation ($11.5 million for Kentuckians with disabilities and $1.3 million for other vocational rehabilitation services in 2015) and adult education ($20 million). KCTCS receives 70 percent of all state workforce development funds.
The mission of KCTCS and its state mandate, as set out in the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997 (HB1), is to provide the training necessary to develop a workforce with the skills to meet the needs of new and existing industries — which increasingly require at least some higher education. Between 2005 and 2014, KCTCS awarded 243,421 degrees and credentials. In addition, in 2015 alone KCTCS provided customized workforce training for a total of 40,000 employees at 5,500 businesses, according to a recent presentation to a House budget review subcommittee.
Kentucky’s community colleges have also been innovators in the “career pathways” workforce development model. Career pathways provide “a series of connected education and training programs and support services that enable individuals to secure employment within a specific industry or occupational sector, and to advance over time to successively higher levels of education and employment in that sector.” Many of the career pathways programs at KCTCS have been designed to address the growing need for trained workers in the healthcare sector. Other KCTCS career pathways initiatives are in information technology and manufacturing and industrial technology. These programs not only help fill the state’s workforce needs but also ensure that those with low skills and low levels of education — who are often also low-income — can access these job opportunities.
However, at the same time that Kentucky’s community colleges are engaging in such important workforce development efforts, the state has continued to cut their budgets — by 27 percent between 2008 and 2016, in inflation-adjusted terms. In order to partially compensate for these cuts, community college tuition and fees in Kentucky have increased to the highest levels in the region.
Rather than increase investment in such a key site of state workforce development, the governor is proposing to further cut the community colleges. In order to attempt to manage these deep cuts, KCTCS estimates it would have to increase tuition by 8.8 percent in 2017 – as reported to a House budget review subcommittee. Without such a high tuition increase, KCTCS reports that 539 faculty and staff would have to lose their jobs and 61 programs would be cut, on top of services being reduced or eliminated. Such cuts threaten the ability of KCTCS to effectively develop the state’s workforce. They not only impact students’ ability to afford to go to/stay in school but could also reduce support services, which are critical to success for many community college students.