What I Learned at Harvard

by President Box - February 27, 2020

A few weeks ago, I spoke to students in a graduate class at Harvard University. Needless to say, I was honored to do so. But I was also a little surprised by what I learned from the students. Obviously, these folks are very bright, but when it came to their knowledge about community colleges, I had to school them.

The Harvard students were dumbfounded that the majority of our students have jobs. They also were surprised to learn that a large percentage of our students are adults. This made me wonder if other people know and understand who our students are.

For the record, they are some of the hardest working college students around. Here are some other facts:

  • Many are over 25.
  • Many are raising children or taking care of other family members.
  • Most have at least a part-time job.
  • Many are low-income, first-generation college students and/or underrepresented populations.
  • Some were told they weren’t college material.

Although you can find students fitting this description at any Kentucky public university, these students are the norm at our 16 colleges. The Kentucky Legislative Research Commission did a study of our students and found they have some of the most significant barriers to success of any higher ed students in the state.

So, when we talk about community college students, we know they aren’t all 18 or 19, fresh out of high school and planning to transfer to a four-year university. Many of them are looking for education and training so they can join the workforce quickly.

Our students have real world issues, like taking care of kids and wondering how to pay the rent, and yet, they are some of the brightest and most tenacious people I’ve ever encountered.

Our 16 colleges are focused on making college as convenient and affordable as possible for our students. We’ve added more night and weekend classes and are trying some flexible class schedules to better meet their needs. We have more advisors to help them navigate the college journey. And, we’ve opened pantries at each college to provide food and other necessities.

It’s very simple really. We want them to succeed, so we’re doing everything we can to knock down barriers that get in the way of success.

Community college will never be Harvard, and that’s OK. That’s not our role. Our role is to help Kentuckians have better lives, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure they do.