Kentucky's goal of 60% with degrees and credentials by 2030 will move the state closer to the projected national average, making Kentucky more competitive in an economy where most new jobs require a postsecondary credential.
The Big Goal: 60% with Degrees and Credentials by 2030
Kentucky's strategic agenda for postsecondary education advances the Commonwealth's overall ambitious goal—to raise the percentage of Kentuckians with a high-quality postsecondary degree or certificate to 60 percent by the year 2030. Achieving this goal is critical to accelerate job creation, grow the economy, and expand the state's tax base through the contributions of a more skilled, productive workforce.
Progress Made in 2019-20
Kentucky continues to make strides in achieving this goal, increasing to 49.1% from 45.5% the previous year. Kentucky's future prosperity depends on more people advancing through our postsecondary education system and graduating in less time. CPE is leading efforts to increase degree production; make instruction more relevant, rigorous and engaging; improve support services for students when and where they need it; close achievement gaps; and ensure academic quality across our campuses.
To stay on track, the state needs to increase the number of undergraduate degree and credential holders by 1.7% annually. Since establishing the goal, Kentucky has outpaced that need, putting it far ahead through its efforts in degree production.
Certificates, Associate Degrees and Three-Year Graduation Rates
Much of Kentucky’s progress is due to an increase in short-term postsecondary certificates awarded by Kentucky’s Community and Technical College System (KCTCS): a gain of 8.4% to 27,347 compared to 25,231 awarded in 2018-19.
In addition, KCTCS conferred 9,966 associate degrees in 2019-20, a 1% increase over 2018-19.
KCTCS surpassed all of their graduation rate targets for 2020-21. The total 3-year graduation rate at KCTCS in 2019-20 rose to 36.3%, an increase of 2.4 percentage points over 2018-19. The overall rate has been rising steadily since 2012-13.
Bachelor’s Degrees and Six-Year Graduation Rates
Bachelor’s degrees awarded by public universities were up slightly (0.7%), rising to 19,147 compared to 19,011 in 2018-19.
The overall 6-year graduation rate for public universities in 2019-20 increased 1.4 percentage points over 2018-19 to 56.4%. Five universities experienced gains in their graduation rates, while three experienced declines.
The number of master’s, specialist, doctoral degrees awarded by Kentucky’s public universities increased .61%, from 7.414 in 2018-19 to 7.459 awarded in 2019-20.
Note that graduate and postgraduate certificates are not included in this category.
Challenges and Progress Getting Students to Graduation
The college-going rate of Kentucky’s high school graduates who attend any in-state institution decreased from 51.7% in 2018 to 50.5% in 2019. Because Kentucky’s metric only reflects the in-state rate, a direct national comparison is cannot be made, however the overall college-going rate nationally decreased over 3 percentage points over the same period.
College readiness rates of Kentucky high school graduates (public and private) dropped significantly for both the two-year and four-year sectors.
Rates for those attending KCTCS decreased 15.3 percentage points: from 49.1% in 2018-19 to 33.8% in 2019-20. For those attending public universities, the rate decrease was not as high, at 4.9 percentage points, or 84.5% to 79.6%.
Kentucky is one of 15 states where 100% of high school juniors take the ACT exam. Among these 15 states, Kentucky’s average composite score ranked above eight states, including Tennessee. However, the average composite score declined in Kentucky, from 19.8 to 19.5.
To note: due to COVID-19 school closures, not all juniors were able to test, so 2020 results reflect scores of sophomores, juniors and seniors.
Subject-Specific - English
Based on statewide college readiness standards, 69% of public university students who were classified as not college-ready for English courses when entering school in Fall 2018 had completed a credit-bearing English course by Fall 2019. This has held steady from the previous year (69%).
Among students who entered KCTCS not ready for credit-bearing English courses, 15.7% of entrants in Fall 2018 had completed a credit-bearing course by the following fall semester (Fall 2019). This is a large decrease from the previous year, which was 35.7% who completed a credit-bearing course.
Subject-Specific – Math
Based on statewide college readiness standards, 54% of public university students who were classified as not college-ready for mathematics courses when entering school in Fall 2018 had completed a credit-bearing math course by Fall 2019. This is a large jump in progress from the following year, which had only 40% of students earning credit by their second fall semester.
Among students who entered KCTCS not ready for credit-bearing math courses, 30.1% of entrants in Fall 2018 had completed a credit-bearing course by the following fall semester (Fall 2019). This is also a large jump from the previous year, which was 15.9% who completed a credit-bearing course.
Enrollment of students aged 24 or less has increased or decreased by 1% for the last five years, however the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 reduced fall enrollment at Kentucky's public institutions by 3.6% compared to fall 2019.
Undergraduate enrollment among adults residing in Kentucky fell from 38,452 in the fall of 2018 to 37,357 in the fall of 2019, a 2.8% decrease. These data do not coincide with the onset of COVID-19, when unemployment increased dramatically. Initial numbers for 2020-21 show that enrollment of adults dramatically decreased.
First- to Second-Year Retention Rates
The overall retention rate at KCTCS in 2019-20 rose 1.6 percentage points over the previous year to 57.1%. KCTCS exceeded its 2020-21 target of 54.4% ahead of schedule.
The overall retention rate at public universities in 2019- 20 rose 2.5 percentage points over the previous year to 80.7%. Retention improved at every public university. Four universities met their 2020-21 targets a year ahead of schedule.
Why the 2030 Goal Is Important
- America’s economy is changing. A recent report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Economy reveals that nearly all the jobs created in the U.S. since the Great Recession, 11.5 out of 11.6 million have gone to workers with at least some postsecondary education.
- Kentucky needs talent to capitalize on these changes. To remain competitive, workers need to be problem solvers, innovators, analysts, communicators and facilitators. They must adapt easily to new technologies and be able to work in teams. They need to be lifelong learners, willing to retrain many times over the course of their careers. They need education beyond high school.
- All postsecondary credentials are needed. Kentucky is poised for growth in five sectors: advanced manufacturing; healthcare; business and IT; transportation and logistics; and construction. Certificates help individuals land entry-level jobs. KCTCS works with public universities to create degree pathways that help workers advance in their education and careers over time.
- All regions must benefit. Kentucky will succeed only if we achieve greater levels of education for all. Minority, low-income and non-traditional students need resources and strong advising to help them complete college at rates equal to majority students. Rural areas need better access to postsecondary programs to help their economies and communities flourish.
- If we succeed, the benefits will transcend our economy. College-educated individuals have higher rates of voting, charitable giving and volunteerism. They are healthier and cost less to insure. They are less likely to be incarcerated, on public assistance or addicted to drugs or alcohol. They read to their children more often and are more involved in their children’s schools.
Learn more about Kentucky's education goals by viewing Stronger By Degrees, the Council's strategic agenda for postsecondary and adult education.