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 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.
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.