Recently, KET aired a special program, Filling the Jobs Gap:  Building A Better Kentucky Workforce, centered on education and improving the job opportunities for all Kentuckians.

As a matter of public policy, the governor and General Assembly have inspired the Commonwealth to become laser-focused on increasing the size and skills of our workforce. New scholarships and other incentives are being created to get adults without a college credential back into industry-recognized certificate and associate degree programs at KCTCS. Paid apprenticeships and internships are increasing, help for the disabled and incarcerated to get back into the workforce is expanding, as is access for all to quality jobs in advanced manufacturing, data centers, transportation, health care, the building trades, and others.

KET’s program wonderfully highlights these new resources and new energy being applied to these vital efforts. But the program only tells part of the story.

The program and much of the public discussion around workforce development tends to ignore our baccalaureate and research institutions of higher education and the essential contributions they play in developing a strong workforce, building our economy and making Kentucky a more vibrant and competitive state. We know that employers want people who can think critically, solve problems, communicate clearly and effectively, and work collaboratively—all skills developed through a quality postsecondary education.

Kentucky needs higher levels of education and training at all levels: more people with industry-recognized certificates in high demand workforce areas, as well as more people with associate degrees, bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D.’s. A simple look across the nation shows that states with the highest per capita income also have the most highly educated and well-trained workforces.  Not coincidentally, the citizens in these states also have better health, lower incarceration rates, less unemployment, and greater innovation and entrepreneurial capacity.

Our universities are educating students for current and future market demands. As important, they attract diverse, talented faculty, and students from all over the world. In turn, these clusters of bright, talented people create the building blocks for inventions and discoveries that translate into new companies, new products, services, and new middle and high wage jobs.

Kentucky must develop a nimble workforce prepared for the challenges of both today’s economy and the economy and jobs of the future. We need a workforce capable of competing in a global marketplace. To that end, the Council on Postsecondary Education, with the collaboration and support of our colleges and universities, has established an ambitious goal to help Kentucky position itself as a leader in this new economy.

By the year 2030, at least 60 percent of working-age Kentuckians will have earned a postsecondary credential—whether a certificate, associate, bachelor or graduate degree. That means that if we reach our goal, by 2030 an additional 300,000 working age Kentuckians will have earned a postsecondary credential and be better positioned to support their families, contribute to their communities, and achieve a higher quality of life. In setting this goal, Kentucky joins states like Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, and others that have put the same priority on ensuring a greater percentage of their citizens earn a postsecondary certificate or degree.

Why is this goal important? The numbers speak for themselves.  At the beginning of this year Kentuckians with only a high school diploma had an unemployment rate two and half times greater than someone with a bachelor’s degree. Kentucky families headed by college graduates have incomes 56 percent higher than families headed by high school graduates.

The widely respected Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce published a report last year that dramatically illustrates how much better college-educated adults fared during and since the Great Recession:

  • Workers with only a high school diploma lost 5.6 million jobs during the recession and gained only 80,000 new jobs in the recovery, for a net loss of 5.5 million jobs.
  • Workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher actually gained 187,000 jobs during the recession and have added 8.4 million in the recovery, for a total of nearly 6 million new jobs.

If Kentucky wants a competitive, innovative economy, education is the key. While certificate and associate level postsecondary education is essential, particularly in meeting the urgent demand for middle skilled positions, we must also recognize and value the broad spectrum of postsecondary education necessary to drive our economy and make Kentucky the best version of itself.

High school student participation in dual credit programs is on the rise in Kentucky with an overall 69 percent increase over two years. This is welcome news to Kentucky policymakers who have worked to expand greater student access to affordable college opportunities and college completion.

Overall dual credit program growth, 2014-15 compared to 2016-17.
Dual credit program growth, 2014-15 compared to 2016-17.

Dual credit programs are cost-effective ways for students to earn both high school and college credit while still in high school. These programs are expected to boost the size and quality of Kentucky’s workforce since studies show that high school students who participate in dual credit coursework have increased college enrollment and on-time college graduation rates.

Two key developments led to the gains in dual credit participation. First, the Council on Postsecondary Education approved a dual credit policy in June 2015, which became effective in the fall 2016 semester.

This policy provides eligible high school students with access to a minimum of three general education courses and three career and technical education courses in career pathways that are meaningful in today’s workplace.

The policy also guides the ways to increase student access to dual credit programming and provides guiding principles and evidence-based practices to support and maintain the quality of both faculty and coursework, and the transferability of credit between postsecondary institutions.

The second significant policy development came when Gov. Matt Bevin signed an Executive Order in June 2016 establishing a Dual Credit Scholarship Program that allowed every Kentucky high school graduate to earn credit for two college courses, at no cost to the student.

In March 2017, the state legislature codified the Dual Credit Scholarship Program with House Bill 206. This law established the distribution of funding for the scholarship program and the cost per credit hour for dual credit coursework. Eligible dual credit courses include both general education classes, and career and technical education courses in state-approved career pathways that lead to an industry-recognized credential.

CPE’s Dual Credit Advisory Council will continue to oversee the implementation of the policy and will create an accountability system for monitoring the progress of dual credit programming.

The policy implementation and the Dual Credit Scholarship Program have driven significant gains in participation, credit hours earned and savings to students and their families.

And as a policy driver, these gains show great promise in advancing CPE’s 2030 goal, which calls for at least 60 percent of Kentucky’s working-age population to have earned a high-quality postsecondary certificate, associate, bachelor’s or graduate degree.


  • The number of high school students taking college courses at KCTCS colleges more than doubled in two years, increasing from 12,656 students in 2014-15 to 25,616 in 2016-17.
  • The number of high school students taking college courses on public four-year campuses increased by 43 percent in that same timeframe, from 15,778 students to 22,560 between 2014-15 and 2016-17.
  • The overall increase in dual credit participation is 69 percent, up from 28,434 to 48 ,176 between 2014-15 and 2016-17.

Credit hours:

  • Between 2014-15 and 2016-17, the number of college credit hours taken by high school students increased from just over 44,000 at Kentucky public universities to nearly 65,500 credit hours.
  • At KCTCS, the number of credit hours taken by high school students increased from nearly 35,000 to more than 75,000 in the same timeframe.
  • The overall total for dual credit/enrollment 2016-17 was 140,487; a 78 percent increase from 2014-15. These credit hours include both those taken through the dual credit scholarship program, as well as those accessed through other means.

Dual Credit Scholarship Program:

  • In its first year, the Kentucky Dual Credit Scholarship Program saved Kentucky students and their families over $4.5 million.
  • The scholarship program played a significant role in the increase in dual credit participation. In 2016-17, nearly 25,000 high school students earned 87,283 credit hours through dual credit scholarships at Kentucky’s public community and technical colleges and private and public universities.
  • Most students receiving scholarships took English, mathematics or career and technical education courses.