If I had to sum up my recent campus tour of Somerset Community College in one word it would be “impressed.”

In fact, I was very favorably impressed with the array of quality programming and how the college is working with key industries to align its curriculum to meet the workforce needs of employers. I saw this commitment in action with visits to the Lineman Training Center, 3D printing technology lab, and the physical therapy and nursing programs.

The Lineman Center’s eight-week certificate program has 700 graduates. Shown is Coordinator Dean Rhodes and Bob King.

The Lineman Training Center is evidence of a college seeing a need in an entire industry and coming up with a solution, as well as creating job opportunities in a field that pays well. The center is attracting students from multiple states for the eight-week certificate program.

With applications for 3D printing technologies rapidly expanding in the biomedical, manufacturing and transportation industries, the college stepped to the forefront to meet another workforce need by creating a certificate in 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, and a 3D printing technology lab. This cutting-edge industry is expected to grow in Kentucky, particularly because the state is a major exporter of aircraft and automotive parts.

The physical therapy associate program is an extremely competitive program and is one of only three in the state. Along with the nursing program, these graduates go right into the workforce in high-demand occupations. Both are well-known for providing high-quality academic preparation for careers.

King described his meeting with these students as inspiring.

Another very enjoyable highlight of the day was interacting with students since I rarely have that opportunity as president of a state agency. Most of the SCC students I spoke with were adults beginning college or returning. I was so very inspired by their personal stories, ambitions, and the fact that they chose to pursue education when most have competing responsibilities with family and work schedules.

It was clear to me that Somerset Community College and President Jo Marshall enjoy broad support from their elected officials, local workforce and business leaders. Meetings with faculty and staff and the leadership team were also insightful and encouraging.

However, a key challenge for these leaders moving forward, and for SCC, is to raise the educational attainment in their region. Kentucky’s attainment is lower than the national average, and the Somerset region’s attainment is lower than the Kentucky average. I hope these leaders, joined with faculty and parents, will find innovative ways to encourage more high school graduates and adults in their region to pursue additional education. It is so critical for the students’ future employability, and the viability of both the regional and state economy depend on it.

Bob King is the president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. His visit to Somerset Community College was a personal goal to spend a full day learning about each of the 16 colleges within KCTCS. Two campus tours remain: Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College at the Middlesboro and Pineville campuses Nov. 9 and Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Prestonsburg Nov. 28.

Since the Great Recession, the national press has communicated the notion that a college degree is not worth the effort or expense, and that few jobs exist for those who pursue this fruitless but costly adventure. Story after story has perpetuated the myth of deeply indebted college graduates wasting away in dead-end jobs paying minimum wages and receiving no benefits. All good storytelling, these emotional, compelling, heartrending tales lead to the savory conclusion that colleges and universities are selling products no one really needs. But a new report developed by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University clearly demonstrates that all these stories are just that--stories. While the anecdotes may have been true, the larger data paints a very different picture.

reference-goodjobs
97% of good jobs required a bachelor's degree or higher.

Entitled “Good Jobs Are Back: College Graduates Are First in Line,” the study provides clear and compelling data dispelling the “no jobs for college grads” mythology that has become so popular across the nation. The report divides newly-created jobs in the economy into three categories: good jobs (paying more than $53,000); middle-wage jobs (paying between $32,000 and $53,000); and low-wage jobs (paying less than $32,000).  The report tracks both the growth of the various types of jobs and who is filling them.

Of the 6.6 million jobs added during the recovery since the Great Recession, 2.9 million were in the good jobs category, and 2.8 million (97 percent) of those jobs were filled by people who had earned at least a bachelor’s degree. The good jobs constituted 44 percent of all the new jobs created, while low-wage jobs only constituted 27 percent of the new jobs created.

The vast majority of the good jobs were full-time, and 68 percent included health insurance and 61 percent included employer-sponsored retirement plans. In contrast, the low-wage jobs were nearly three times as likely to be part-time, only 33 percent included health insurance and only 25 percent provided a retirement plan.

reference-goodjobs2The types of jobs included in the “good jobs” category include managerial positions, software developers, registered nurses, financial analysts, market researchers, computer-related occupations, as well as the STEM occupations (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and the allied health professions. Many of the managerial and market research jobs were filled by people with degrees in what many would describe as the liberal arts.

Beyond this report, other data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey demonstrate that for those who graduate, student-related debt levels are manageable, and that the percentage of income dedicated to loan repayment is comparable to average monthly expenditures on entertainment ($217), apparel ($145) and healthcare ($296).

So, Kentucky high school students and parents, stop believing all the horror stories so popular in the media. A bachelor’s degree is well worth the effort and the expense, and the world of employers out there is anxiously awaiting your arrival into the workforce as a highly-educated, highly-skilled contributor to their company’s success.