Student Will Baird works on resetting the tool on a Haas CNC milling machine during class in the Advanced Technology Center on Monday at Owensboro Community & Technical College.

Between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years, the Owensboro Community & Technical College saw a 5.3% increase in the number of credentials awarded to students, which is a continuation of the school’s consistent growth in the number of certificates earned by students there in the last 10 years.

In 2009, 1,118 OCTC students earned credentials. That number increased to 2,161 in 2019, which is a trend being mirrored across the state, according to OCTC President Scott Williams.

At this rate, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education reports that nearly half of working-age adults in the commonwealth have a degree or a certificate, which means the organization is on target for reaching its goal of having 60% of the working-age population earning a degree or a certificate by 2030.

The CPE reports that undergraduate credentials increased 3.3% over the last year.

Williams said there are several contributing factors to this kind of growth, including offering more flexibility in programming for adults to complete degrees and certificates. Locally, more students are earning technical degrees, which is made possible through several work and learn models that OCTC has implemented over the last several years.

The work and learn models allow students to attend classes while working jobs in their desired fields of study through sponsorships of local companies. In the last year alone, OCTC has introduced new work and learn models including construction and automotive.

Williams said the increases in credentials can’t entirely be attributed to those programs, but they are part of it.

“The apprenticeship has rebounded,” he said. “If you really look at that data, the increase in credentials that have occurred over the last three or four years have spurred that along.”

He also said allowing for more flexibility and accessibility in learning has helped adult learners return to start or complete degrees.

“We have implemented wrap-around support services for students,” he said. “We have success coaches, and a lot of assistance for people, to try to help keep them engaged and staying in school. From day one, we are here to help students succeed. If they need assistance, we are going to be there for them.”

CPE President Aaron Thompson echoed this sentiment in a recent CPE report, saying that even with the challenges of 2020, campuses across the commonwealth have “doubled down on strategies to identify and address Kentucky’s workforce needs, and most importantly, we’ve undertaken tremendous efforts to avoid leaving anyone behind.”

The CPE report also said that across the state, 23,865 bachelor’s degrees, 10,005 associate degrees and 14,217 certificates or diplomas were awarded during the last year. These numbers are up by more than 10% over the previous year, and are up by about 53% in the last five years.

David Mahan, CPE associate vice president for data, research, and advanced analytics, also said there are many factors for this progress, including an alignment between education and workforce needs.

“While the overall volume of degrees is important, we are especially focused on building the skills and knowledge base for a strong economy,” he said. “We know the jobs of the future will require additional skills and training, and Kentucky must stay nimble in our efforts to fill these gaps and provide the greatest opportunities for our residents.”

Mahan also said student success initiatives, like those in place at OCTC, and a greater emphasis on campus diversity plans have contributed to the increase in postsecondary credentials earned.

OCTC has also worked toward being more inclusive by also implementing the GO FEMALES program, which is an advanced manufacturing technology program specifically aimed at those who are underrepresented in the field.

This has been taking place across the state, the CPE reports, but there are also some challenges indicated.

For example, there are definite racial gaps in credential attainment across the commonwealth, as well as gaps in attainment of those in urban and rural areas, and low-income students.

Thompson said the CPE is “strategically targeting” these areas, and that this recent data “provides a valuable baseline for continuous improvement.”

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315

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