In 2002, the Ford Foundation selected the Kentucky Community & Technical College System (KCTCS) to participate in its "Community College Bridges to Opportunity Initiative". The "Bridges Hypotheses" was developed by the Ford Foundation to address the fact that separation of remedial, workforce, and academic missions fails to promote economic and academic advancement for disadvantaged students. It also suggests that public policy reinforces this separation and changes in public policy can foster improved mission integration.
All of Kentucky's key stakeholders were engaged in the implementation and institutionalization of strategically designed state education policy initiatives including:
KCTCS embraced the Career Pathways model as a strategy for achieving this mission integration. In October 2003, KCTCS issued a Request for Proposals to its 16 colleges and co-hosted a joint (Kentucky-Ohio) technical assistance conference with the Ohio Knowledgeworks Foundation. All KCTCS colleges were represented at the conference by Career Pathways Teams and were provided technical assistance from national experts in the beginning stages of their Pathways development. All 16 colleges responded with two-year implementation plans and budget requests totaling $3,517,791 with $4,027,606 of in-kind support from employers, agency partners, and federal grants. KCTCS has approved 17 pathways projects which target services for over 1200 new and incumbent workers.
In 2004, KCTCS was awarded continued support from the Ford Foundation to support the Career Pathways initiatives at the 16 college districts, providing funds for curriculum and articulation work, data collection and accountability, trainings, policy development, and technical support.
In 2006 and beyond, many of the KCTCS colleges are concluding their original pathway pilots and are working towards sustainability and capacity building. Many colleges are developing new initiatives and/or expanding existing efforts to integrate Career Pathways in additional program areas and other career sectors. Others are building upon and expanding their projects to serve more students and employers. The result of these efforts is evidence of the mission integration and systemic transformation sought by both KCTCS and the Ford Foundation.
Since May 1997, the tenets of the Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997 have been the guiding force for the development of KCTCS as the primary provider of workforce education and training for all Kentuckians. One of the goals of the KCTCS Strategic Plan 2006-10 is to “enhance the economic development of communities and the Commonwealth.” The 2006-07 LEAP Workforce Competitiveness engaged CEO/executive business leaders throughout the state in a dialogue that would connect the KCTCS Mission and Vision with Kentucky’s economic future. These CEO briefings brought together more than 300 business leaders in 17 dialogue sessions (one at each college and one at the System Office) in a structured discussion on the workforce and economic development challenges facing Kentucky’s leading businesses.
KCTCS also conducted a benchmarking study of the Community and Economic Development Offices of each college to determine the range of services, training, and operations being provided to business and industry. Both studies demonstrated the need for KCTCS to re-evaluate how it provides services to business and industry and to reinvent the role of the colleges in meeting Kentucky’s workforce and economic development challenges.
The WCI also builds on the Ford Foundation funded Bridges to Opportunity Initiative which developed broad based career pathways in all of the colleges. Career pathways are a way to connect education and training programs with support services to help people — especially those who are most disconnected and disadvantaged — gain employment and/or advance within an occupational or industry sector. Pathways move vertically within clusters and horizontally across sector/clusters with similar work environments and contextual requirements. Career paths depend upon information about the sector, connections between education and training programs and employers, curricula that are defined by job competencies, and articulation of community colleges’ programs with higher education requirements to ensure continuity along the paths.
Integrating career pathways with the industry sector approach outlined by both the System and the colleges as an integral part of the WCI strategy will expand the institutional understanding of local, regional and state education and labor market opportunities and barriers, and will leverage a comprehensive range of community resources to address them. As the advocate for the workforce and career and technical education mission of the colleges, CED operations will represent the mission integration among academic, workforce development and remedial education; generate employer-driven, sector-oriented economic development partnerships; identify clear connections between academic credentials and jobs; develop remedial bridge programs into for credit coursework; and provide a strong supportive services component.