LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A new report from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) shows graduation rates for the 2020 to 2021 school year are up, despite a drop in enrollment.
Graduation rates at Kentucky four-year public universities increased by 1.8 percentage points while the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) saw a 4.1 point increase. The graduation rates in the report are based on first-time, full-time students who started during the fall semester. These students graduated with an associate degree or credential within three years of starting college or a bachelor’s degree within six years.
Kentucky’s largest community college, Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC), spoke with Spectrum News about what they did to increase their institution’s graduation rates.
Halie Chamness-Stice helped at one of JCTC’s booths during spirit week Tuesday. This will be her last semester at the college in Louisville.
“I love JCTC just because of how close knit this whole community is together, and how he just uplift each other and support each other,” Chamness-Stice said.
The 20-year-old told Spectrum News 1 she is working toward an Associates of Arts degree with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She started at JCTC in the fall 2020.
“So right out of high school, in the pandemic, and there were a lot of times where I was like, ‘Man, I don’t even know if college is for me.’ Like there were a lot of tough times, but I have great professors who were like, ‘Hey, I’m here for you,” she explained. “Jefferson just provides a huge support system, and it’s like a family type mentality here.“
That huge support system seems to help more students graduate from JCTC.
JCTC’s graduation rate during the 2015-2016 school year for first time, full-time students was 10.9%, according to data emailed to Spectrum News 1 by JCTC’s Vice President for Student Affairs, Laura Smith. Last school year, JCTC’s graduation rate was 31.4%, despite no major change in enrollment.
Smith explained that in 2011 and 2012, JCTC focused more on student success versus student enrollment numbers.
“Community colleges across the country had historically focused on enrollment, how many students can we get in the door, what’s our headcount, and now we are really saying our emphasis needs to be on how many students are coming back, how many students are graduating. There’s no point in coming through the door if we don’t keep you and help you reach the goals you set for yourself initially,” she said.
Jefferson Community Technical College (JCTC) redesigned some of its courses to breakdown academic barriers, Smith said, and the college also focused on non-academic obstacles students face, by offering more scholarships to having a social worker on campus.
“So I think we just really try to think about how do we wrap all the way around the student to make sure they are getting all of their needs met so they can focus on their classes and be the scholars that they want to be,” Smith told Spectrum News.
Besides graduation rates increasing overall, the CPE report also showed graduation rates among underrepresented minority students at public universities increased rising 4.3 percentage points, which outperformed the overall rate. Smith told Spectrum News 1, JCTC’s graduation rates for underrepresented minority students has also increased, from 7% during the 2015-2016 school year to 21% last school year.
Chamness-Stice said there was a point when she thought about dropping out of JCTC because of a difficult math class she was in and not knowing which path to take, always switching her major. She reached out to one of her professors for help, who invited Chamness-Stice into her office to talk.
“And I sat there and honestly cried in her office, and she’s like, ‘It’s okay, like it’s rough, I understand that.’”
That support helped because Chamness-Stice said she finished her classes this semester and will graduate in May next year.