Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

September 4, 2013

Among the best

ACTC provides a quality education at affordable price

The Independent

ASHLAND — Not only is Ashland Community and Technical College the most affordable option for area residents seeking an education beyond high school, but it also is one of the best community colleges in the nation.

Thus, students who attend the local community and technical college not only are getting a bargain, but they also are getting a quality education. By doing an excellent job of preparing students who go on to a four-year college after two years at ACTC, the local college is helping to increase the number of college-educated adults in this region that has a shortage of such people.

By helping students earn their four-year college degree, a better educated adult population will make this region more competitive in recruiting the good-paying jobs that require at least some college. That bodes well for this region’s future.

The Washington Monthly, a respected magazine that focuses on government and national politics, has ranked ACTC 43rd among the more than 1,000 community colleges in the country. The ranking is based on student retention and completion, and student  engagement issues such as teaching practices, student workload, interaction with faculty and student support.

Those issues are critical to the success of not only two-year community college but also four-year state universities. Since the enactment of the Higher Education Reform Act that separated the community colleges from the University of Kentucky and led to the merger of the community colleges and the vocational-technical schools, enrollment at the community and technical colleges has soared. As a result, the number of students earning  technical degrees or certificates or going on to earn four-year degrees has grown greatly. In fact, the community and technical colleges have led the way to creating a better-educated adult workforce in Kentucky. 

However, while more students than ever are enrolling in the community and technical colleges, keeping those students in school until they earn a degree or certificate has always been a challenge. One reason is because unlike the four-year universities, the two-year schools have open enrollment which means anyone graduating from a Kentucky high school can attend. That greatly increases the educational opportunities of Kentucky residents, but it also means that many of the students enrolling in the community and technical schools lack the academic skills to be immediately successful in college. In fact, a majority of ACTC students must take some remedial classes in math or reading before they enroll in classes that count toward a degree. That’s why so many students give up before earning a degree.

Retention, completion and relationships between students and faculty are all key components of ACTC’s mission because they contribute to student success, according to ACTC President Kay Adkins. Student success, always the first concern at ACTC, has become a priority in recent years on the state and national levels as well, with increasing attention on whether students reach their goals, whether they are earning a diploma or certificate or transferring to another college or university.

The survey measured five benchmarks in addition to retention and completion, said Steve Flouhouse, ACTC’s director of institutional planning, research and effectiveness. ACTC results showed improvement in the benchmarks since the last time it participated in the study in 2009, he said. At that time, three of the five were below 50 percent, the mark considered good. ACTC’s student-faculty interaction benchmark was 61, one of the top marks in the nation, he said.

Improvement stems from initiatives in ACTC’s advising and retention office, Flouhouse said.

Christina McDavid, associate dean of advising and student retention, said her office engages struggling students with credit recovery programs. The office has a veteran outreach center, a career center and trained peer mentors. “There are multiple ways we engage with students and they are a big reason the numbers are up,” she said.

The study showed a three-year combined graduation/transfer rate of 31.9 percent. However, student success is not measured in graduation and transfer numbers alone, Adkins said. Many students attend community college to take specific classes or for personal fulfillment, or have other goals that don’t include completion. “Our graduation rate doesn’t speak to the total picture of student success,” she said.

Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Cumberland was the other community and technical college on the top 50 list. That means two schools serving the part of Kentucky that has the least educated adult work force are leading the way toward reducing their negative statistic that keep potential employers from locating in this region. We congratulate both ACTC and Southeast for making the top 50 and for helping area residents extend their education beyond high school.