Op-ed: Kentucky Private Colleges are Changing the Lives of Low-income Students

The following is an op-ed authored by Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU) President OJ Oleka, PhD.

Dr. OJ Oleka

Setting the benchmark of your first 100 days is a good measure for most leaders. It is in those first few months that you get to set the vision, organize your team, and set out to achieve your goals. In my first 100 days as president of the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU), I have visited all 18 AIKCU campuses and learned how our institutions are changing the lives of Kentucky students, many of whom are low-income students. At AIKCU, we have used those visits to begin developing a plan to expand upon the higher education achievements in Kentucky.

AIKCU promotes public policy in the state house and the nation’s capitol that benefits Kentucky’s private, non-profit, independent colleges and students. One such policy is the Pell grant program, which provides direct, non-loan student aid to low-income students in an effort to eliminate financial barriers to attend college. This program has changed lives across the nation, and here in Kentucky. Contrary to popular perception, Kentucky’s private independent institutions serve a higher percentage of Pell eligible students than public universities. Roughly, 40% of the student population at private universities and colleges in the Commonwealth are Pell-eligible (or receive some Pell funding). Our institutions graduate these low-income students at strong rates – usually within four years – with manageable student loan debt and strong employment outcomes. 

AIKCU also manages partnerships among our member colleges and with businesses that are designed to share and lower costs. These partnerships allows our members to save money and reinvest those savings into their students, employees, and communities. It also promotes both student and institutional success, both of which are critical to Kentucky’s future. AIKCU institutions are located in many rural communities where they are economic drivers. Our members educate more than 56,000 students and employ more than 7,000 people, generating a collective annual economic impact of well over $700 million dollars in Kentucky. These institutions are not only critical for the economic vitality of Kentucky, they are a worthwhile investment.

The Kentucky General Assembly knows this, too. Since the Great Recession of 2008, the General Assembly has appropriated over $410 million dollars in the Kentucky Tuition Grant (KTG), a needs-based scholarship for students who attend an AIKCU member institution. The funds for this scholarship are generated from the Kentucky Lottery fund and administered through the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA), meaning this resource is not generated through taxpayer funding. It’s a win/win for the people of Kentucky: low-income students have access to an affordable postsecondary opportunity and taxpayers are not asked to foot the bill.

For our colleges and universities, this is their greatest commitment. While the goals and missions of our institutions vary, each is committed to graduating low-income and first-generation college students and putting them on a path to enter the workforce. 

But we are committed to doing more. Since becoming president late last year, I have established a Workforce Development Advisory Council to assist our organization in developing public policy and market-based solutions to independent higher education challenges. We hosted legislative advocacy days in both Frankfort and Washington, D.C., deepening relationships with our federal congressional delegation and state legislature. We have also met with key leaders in Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s office and in President Donald Trump’s administration.

Over the next year, I hope you will join AIKCU as we are just getting started. In the coming months, AIKCU will undergo a strategic planning process, a statewide listening tour, and amplify our direct involvement in improving low-income student outcomes. We will continue to support our colleges and universities in their critical work.

Together, we can build a better Kentucky that has the educated workforce and jobs necessary so individuals, families, and communities can thrive.

Lindsey Wilson College student government president to represent private colleges on statewide board

 Jonathan Joseph, LWC SGA President

COLUMBIA, Ky. — Jonathan Joseph, a Lindsey Wilson College senior from Louisville, has been chosen by the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU) to represent the students of Kentucky’s nonprofit private colleges and universities on the Kentucky Board of Student Body Presidents.

“I am honored to be the AIKCU representative to the Kentucky Board of Student Body Presidents,” said Joseph. “I am excited to hear from other student body presidents and find ways in which we can better the college experience for the more than 30,000 students being represented by our fantastic group.”

Joseph is in his second term as president of the Lindsey Wilson College Student Government Association. He is a Bonner Scholar, resident assistant, admissions student ambassador, and an equipment manager for the Lindsey Wilson football team. A history and communication major and political science minor, Joseph is active in local, state, and national politics and has volunteered on a number of campaigns. He has also served as an intern with the Republican Party of Kentucky and the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office. ​

The Kentucky Board of Student Body Presidents was formally established by state statute in 2013. It advises the legislative and executive branches and the Council on Postsecondary Education regarding postsecondary education issues and the concerns of college students. The board is made up of the student body presidents from Kentucky’s public universities, two representatives from the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), and a private college representative selected by AIKCU.

Students and SGA leaders from other AIKCU institutions can connect with Jonathan Joseph on Twitter.

AIKCU presents annual report to Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

President Gary S. Cox and Vice President Mason Dyer delivered AIKCU’s annual report to Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education members at CPE’s June meeting at Centre College.

Cox provided an overview of the sector and reported on AIKCU members’ collective progress toward targets identified in Stronger By Degrees, Kentucky’s 2011-15 strategic agenda for postsecondary education. As required by statute, AIKCU’s report also provided an update on the status of the independent institutions and identified “opportunities for more collaboration between the state and independent institutions.”

Cox talked in detail about the return on investment that Kentucky receives for it’s support of the Kentucky Tuition Grant, the only financial aid program designed specifically for Kentucky resident private college students. AIKCU students received $28 million in KTG in 2012-13, about 2.4% of all postsecondary spending in Kentucky.

Cox emphasized that AIKCU’s primary public policy objective is to support KHEEA’s budget recommendation to fully appropriate all lottery revenue committed by statute to student aid. He asked CPE members for their support in this effort.

Some other highlights from the report include:

  • AIKCU has met or exceeded performance targets in the areas of total degrees/credentials awarded, master’s degrees awarded, and KCTCS transfers, and is making solid progress toward bachelor and doctoral degree targets.
  • AIKCU has exceeded targets for STEM+H degree production and online learning.
  • 98% of entering AIKCU students receive financial aid.
  • AIKCU members have increased institutional aid spending from $48 million in 1996-97 to $256 million in 2012-13.
  • AIKCU members enroll 14% of Kentucky’s postsecondary students (publics + AIKCU members) and produce 22% of Kentucky’s bachelor’s degrees.
  • A conservative economic benefits analysis indicates that AIKCU members add approximately $618 million and 10,434 jobs to Kentucky’s economy annually through their annual operations.

Download the 2014 AIKCU Annual Report to CPE.


Lindsey Wilson College hosts CPE meeting; AIKCU makes annual report

On April 17-18, Lindsey Wilson College hosted the regular meeting of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, the governor-appointed coordinating board for postsecondary education in Kentucky. Several years ago, CPE members began alternating meetings between the CPE office in Frankfort and college or university campuses throughout Kentucky. Each year, CPE holds one of those meetings on an AIKCU member campus. Meetings have previously been hosted at Georgetown College, Transylvania University, and Berea College.

Council members were welcomed to Lindsey Wilson by President Bill Luckey, who provided an overview of the college’s remarkable growth during his three decades at the Columbia college, dating back to his beginnings as an admissions counselor at the then two-year college. President Luckey emphasized the important role that Lindsey Wilson, like all AIKCU members, plays in the educational, economic, and social well-being of the surrounding community and region as well as in the attainment of CPE’s policy goals. (See President Luckey’s slides.) Council members concluded their day with a campus tour provided by two Lindsey Wilson seniors and dinner.

At the full CPE meeting on Thursday, April 18, AIKCU President Gary S. Cox and VP Mason Dyer made a dual report to the Council. They first reported on AIKCU’s progress towards the sector’s goals under the CPE strategic plan. As a sector, AIKCU members have made strong progress in most targeted areas and have already exceeded goals in the areas of KCTCS transfers and STEM+H degree production.

See the full accountability presentation:

Cox also provided an update on the overall health of the independent college sector and made recommendations to the Council on ways that CPE and AIKCU might better work together, as required by state statute.

Statutory annual report:

The CPE meeting in Lindsey Wilson’s Hodge Center boasted a full agenda in addition to AIKCU’s presentation, including reports on college readiness, the institutional progress report from Western Kentucky University, and public institution tuition setting, among other items.

For more highlights from the meeting check out this Storify collection of tweets, slides, and links.

AIKCU makes presentation to CPE Rural Access Work Group

On April 4, two AIKCU member presidents — Governor Paul Patton, president of the University of Pikeville, and President Bill Huston of St. Catharine College — and AIKCU President Gary S. Cox talked about the substantial roles Kentucky’s nonprofit, private colleges and universities play in addressing the needs of rural Kentucky in a report to the CPE Rural Access Work Group.

After Presidents Patton and Huston discussed how their institutions continue to innovate and thrive as they address the needs of their respective regions, President Cox provided an overview of the broad array of ways AIKCU’s overwhelmingly rural campuses are serving rural Kentucky. His slides highlighted some of the unique ways AIKCU members are serving rural areas and other pockets of low educational attainment, while an accompanying written report provided a much more detailed list of initiatives underway at almost all AIKCU member institutions.

Dr. Cox ended with the following recommendations for the Work Group to consider as it formulates its final report:

  • Make adequate funding of Kentucky financial aid programs the highest priority;
  • Develop funding and accountability systems that recognize and reward collaboration;
  • Build on the considerable contributions and longstanding commitment of AIKCU members to serving rural Kentucky;
  • Capture a unifying vision for rural Kentucky comparable to BUCKS For BRAINS or 55,000 Degrees;
  • Marshall the resources that exist in rural Kentucky;
  • Recognize the unique role postsecondary education must play in addressing rural poverty;
  • Stay the course – it is a marathon, not a sprint!

Written report: Select Rural-Focused Initiatives Undertaken by Kentucky’s Private, Nonprofit Colleges & Universities (PDF)

Photos: Legislators and other Capitol friends check out ‘PREPARED’ campaign

AIKCU staff spent a morning in the Capitol Tunnel last week catching up with legislators and other friends of private colleges as they checked out our ‘PREPARED’ alumni campaign. Check out the photos in the slideshow below, on Flickr, or on our Facebook page of legislators, Lt. Governor Abramson, and others posing with posters from campuses in their district or from their alma maters.


We appreciate everyone who shared their enthusiasm for the project over social media, including Sen. Jimmy Higdon, who tweeted his photos with both the St. Catharine College and Campbellsville University posters.

And Lt. Gov. Abramson, who retweeted this AIKCU tweet to his followers.

‘PREPARED’ campaign profiling recent alumni launches

Today AIKCU launched an effort to highlight alumni from our member institutions doing great things across the Commonwealth. Kentucky Private College Alumni: PREPARED focuses on the ways our campuses prepare graduates for careers and for life.

The campaign kicked off with a poster display in the tunnel that connects the State Capitol to the Capitol Annex. The display will hang in the tunnel from February 19 to Friday, February 2.

Check out all 20 profiles on our new Alumni page. We’re very proud of all of these recent alumni and the impact they are making throughout the Commonwealth.

We encourage other alumni to share their own stories of how a private college education prepared you for life. Tweet us at @aikcu and hashtag it #kyprivateprepared or share on the AIKCU Facebook page.

View the PREPARED alumni profiles



AIKCU delivers annual report to Council on Postsecondary Education

CPE President Bob King and Georgetown College President Bill Crouch (center) chat during a tour of the Georgetown campus while CPE members Donna Moore and Nancy McKenney walk with their GC tour guide.


The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education alternates meeting sites between its offices in Frankfort and college campuses throughout the state. Once each year, in a reflection of the importance of the independent college sector in Kentucky, CPE holds one of these meetings on the campus of an AIKCU member institution.The June meeting was hosted by Georgetown College. On Thursday, June 20, CPE members were welcomed to Georgetown’s campus by President Bill Crouch and his staff. CPE members learned about Georgetown’s rich academic history and its focus on preparing students for the future.The next day, activities moved back to the CPE office in Frankfort where AIKCU made its statutorily mandated annual report to the Council. Eleven AIKCU presidents were in the audience as AIKCU President Gary S. Cox, St. Catharine College President and AIKCU Board Chair Bill Huston, and AIKCU VP for External Relations and Information Mason Dyer reported on AIKCU’s strong progress towards its sector goals under Kentucky’s strategic plan for postsecondary education.

The AIKCU report also addressed issues of college costs, the efforts of AIKCU and its members to control costs, and campus achievements during the 2011-12 year. Cox stressed that Kentucky’s private colleges provide large amounts of financial aid that help them serve diverse students, including high proportions of Pell Grant recipients and first generation students.

CPE members were particularly interested in learning about the successes campuses participating in the AIKCU Benefit Trust have realized in holding down health care costs.

View the presentation below or download the June 2012 AIKCU report to CPE (PDF)

2012 Report to the Council on Postsecondary Education by Kentucky’s private colleges

Legislative wrap-up: Level funding was best possible result for student aid during tough budget year

On April 20 the General Assembly concluded its work for the year when it finished a five-day special session by  passing a road plan budget and  the “pill mill” bill that were not passed during the regular 60-day legislative session.

While the regular and special sessions were often contentious, we want to take one more opportunity to thank legislators from both chambers and the governor for supporting the interests of students throughout the budget process. Student financial aid was one of the few winners in a bleak budget characterized by cuts. Governor Beshear’s initial budget proposal provided level funding for the state’s three signature financial aid programs (KEES, KTG, and CAP) and the General Assembly kept that level funding until the final budget was signed into law. While need-based programs remain underfunded, level funding is a win for students in this constrained fiscal environment and in a budget that saw public universities’ funding cut 6.4%. Our friends in the General Assembly deserve our thanks for supporting student aid. (Should you wish to send your Senator or Representative a note of thanks, you can access that here.)

Part of AIKCU's advocacy campaign for student aid involved encouraging students to write postcards to legislators.

AIKCU also wants to thank our campuses for their hard work during the session. The concerted efforts by our students and campus communities to communicate the importance of financial aid to legislators contributed to this successful outcome. AIKCU member students began writing postcards to their state representatives and senators thanking them for their support of student financial aid early in the session. In February, groups of students and administrators traveled to Frankfort to thank individual legislators in person and share their personal stories about the importance of student financial aid. (For more on the Frankfort visits, see this earlier post.)

All of these combined efforts — whether it was the 25 thank you postcards that arrived on one day to a state representative from students at his alma mater, Lindsey Wilson students filming video messages to their legislators, Berea College students talking to the chair of the postsecondary budget subcommittee about their labor positions and graduating debt free, or college presidents explaining the importance of financial aid to their district senator — made a difference this session.

While level funding for student financial aid in the biennial budget was our primary concern, there were several other bills that AIKCU followed closely.

HB 308 was signed into law by Governor Beshear. It established the Proprietary Education Commission to strengthen licensure requirements,  provide more oversight of for-profit colleges and improve student protections. AIKCU supported this bill as a good step in strengthening the oversight of proprietary institutions and better protecting students.

HB 260 began as an effort to make the University of Pikeville a public institution, but evolved into the Kentucky Coal Fields Education Attainment bill. It would have provided scholarships from coal severance funds to upper-division students from coal producing counties to attend colleges or universities or qualifying extended campuses within those same regions. The revised bill also provided student services grants to community colleges to improve degree attainment. HB 260 passed the House and was amended in the Senate to include coal severance counties in Western Kentucky. However, HB 260 did not pass the Senate before the regular session ended and was not included in the special session.