Dreaming the College Dream
Kentucky’s Community and Technical College System is a magnet for students who often need to blend work, school, and family. Here is one of their stories
“I WON'T HAVE TO WORRY about whether I am able to help my children financially in their times of need. I won’t have to depend on my family the way I have over the past several decades.
“I now have the opportunity to travel into the next journey of life. It is wonderful knowing that everything is finally coming together.”
The optimism Brandi McElfresh is expressing didn’t come from winning the lottery or inheriting a fortune. Instead, it comes from her experiences as a student at one of Kentucky’s community and technical colleges, the collection of postsecondary schools known as KCTCS.
If you look only at the numbers, understanding KCTCS can be daunting. The system includes 16 colleges, 68 campuses dotting the state, 600 credit programs, 4,568 faculty, and staff helping more than 100,000 students. There are new programs implemented all the time.
The KCTCS labyrinth of schools is the result of a law that brought the technical schools and community colleges together under one umbrella in 1997. In the past decade, enrollment has nearly doubled and KCTCS students now represent 43.6 percent of all undergrads in Kentucky’s public postsecondary institutions.
In the end, however, KCTCS is really about one—one student such as Brandi. Find a comfortable chair. Brandi is going to share her story with you and explain why she is confident about her future.
“This is my third time around at Maysville Community and Technical College (MCTC). The time was never right before, but it is now.
“I graduated from Bracken County High School in Brooksville in 1991. I was 18 at the time—spontaneous, searching for a bigger life, a bigger area, new surroundings.
“I moved one-half hour from my home to a small apartment in Maysville to be close to school. I had to work three jobs to support myself. I received a small amount of financial aid, but it was not enough to sustain me. I didn’t know what I wanted to major in or what I wanted to be. I wasn’t happy.
“After a semester, I joined the National Guard. My uncle, Martin (Sweeney), was a recruiter for the Guard. We talked over the phone several times and then face to face. I come from a long line of Army personnel. My father was in the military, his brother, and his dad were in the military, but still it was a huge decision.
“After basic training in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, and advanced individual training at Ft. Gordon, Georgia, I came back home to my Guard unit. I was a combat signaler, the people you see in the field with a telephone on their back.
“But I still wasn’t ready to be in college, so I enlisted in active duty for four years. There weren’t any openings as a combat signaler at that time, so I reclassified. I went to Fort Sam Houston in Texas, and received training as a medical supply specialist.
“This was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. The military helped me grow up, taught me responsibility and a greater independence. I got to meet new people and learned to co-exist with people from different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds that you don’t get to know in a small town.
“I had a wonderful experience in the military, but when I had a child, I realized that I didn’t want to raise my child in this environment. I wanted my child to know the morals and beliefs I knew growing up in a small community. I returned home.
“I was 23 and enrolled again at Maysville Community and Technical College. Halfway through the semester, my son, Jonathan, became very ill. He had a severe upper respiratory infection, was battling asthma, and kept having strep throat and ear infections nonstop. He was just over a year old. I was working part time and going to school. I missed a lot of work and school, so I decided this was not the time to go to college; I had to focus on getting him healthy. I dropped out of college again.
“I didn’t decide to come back until three semesters ago in the fall of 2008. By then I had a second child, Kyra (now 12), as well as Jonathan (now 16). I came back knowing I wanted to be a nurse.
“My mom and aunt are nurses, but it was nothing they said that helped me make this decision. I have worked in underground limestone mines, sold cars, done car maintenance, worked at odds-and ends-jobs, been a waitress, worked in the tobacco fields, and done a little bit of everything throughout life. I was a district manager in the cellular industry. I realized the corporate world is not where I want to be. I wanted to help people, not sell them stuff.
“I am 37 now and love every minute of school. I have a Kentucky Colonels scholarship that will cover my expenses for four semesters. I have a 4.0 grade-point average. I am studying harder and smarter.
“I now have the tenacity and discipline to make what I want come to fruition. I have every tool I need to succeed. It is such a feeling of triumph.
“MCTC has changed my life and has given me the opportunity to say I have accomplished something I have been trying to do for 20 years. When the 20-year anniversary of my first enrollment hits, it will be accomplished. That’s interesting because my son will graduate from high school the same year I graduate from college. My mother graduated from MCTC the same year I graduated from high school. I saw her commitment when she was working on her degree and hope my children see the same with me.
“Once my children are on their own, I hope to travel the world as a nurse. I am accomplishing what I set out to do.”
KCTCS: 10 FEATURED ACADEMIC PROGRAMS
1. Liberal arts and sciences/liberal studies
3. Business administration and management
4. Licensed practical/vocational nurse training
5. Medical radiologic technology/science-radiation therapist
6. Child care provider/assistant
7. Criminal justice/law enforcement administration
8. Computer information sciences
9. Educational/instructional media design
10. Executive assistant
GETTING STARTED AT A COMMUNITY OR TECHNICAL COLLEGE
1. Earn a high school diploma or a general equivalency diploma, commonly known as a GED.If you need to finish high school, some high schools will let adults into the regular high school classroom. Others have adult high schools and/or correspondence classes. You can also take online classes through Kentucky Virtual Adult Education.
To prepare for and earn a GED, enroll in an adult education GED preparation class in your county by calling Kentucky Adult Education at (502) 573-5114 or going on the Web to www.kyae.ky.gov for the nearest center. You can also earn a GED on television through Kentucky Educational Television. Call (800) 538-4433 for more information on their program.
2. Decide on the best school for you. Distance from home may be the most important factor for you, or perhaps you want the best program in your chosen field. Whatever your criteria, go online to www.gohigherky.org. This Web site will walk you through each step and help you decide which school is best for you.
3. Determine how you will pay
for school. Again, go to www.gohigherky.org for options. There you will find information on scholarships, grants, and loans. You can even create your own folder within the site.
4. Apply. This can be done directly through the admissions office of the college of your choice or online at (you guessed it) www.gohigherky.org.
KENTUCKY LIVING KEYWORD: KENTUCKY COAL ACADEMY
New programs are added frequently within the KCTCS system. One of the recent programs is the Kentucky Coal Academy. To learn more, go to coal academy.