AIKCU launches Workforce Development Advisory Council

Leaders in business, education, and public sectors make up initial appointees

FRANKFORT, Ky. (March 9, 2020) — The Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU) has announced the creation of a new Workforce Development Advisory Council to advise the organization on public policy and market-based solutions to Kentucky’s education and workforce needs.

Initial members of the AIKCU Workforce Development Council include:

  • Deputy Secretary Josh D. Benton, Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet (proxy for Lt. Governor Jacqueline Coleman)
  • Acting Commissioner Kevin C. Brown, Kentucky Department of Education
  • Senator Max Wise, Chair, Senate Standing Committee on Education
  • Representative Bobby McCool (proxy for House Majority Floor Leader John Carney)
  • Dr. Jim Flynn, Executive Director, Kentucky Association of School Superintendents
  • Dr. Aaron Thompson, President, Council on Postsecondary Education
  • Brigitte Blom Ramsey, President and Chief Executive Officer, Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
  • Ashli Watts, President and Chief Executive Officer, Kentucky Chamber

“I’m thrilled that this group of leaders has agreed to help advise me and our members on critical workforce issues,” said Dr. OJ Oleka, AIKCU President. “We have great independent colleges and universities throughout the state producing graduates with the skills and attributes that employers want and need. It’s my hope that this new Advisory Council will help us better connect the dots and more effectively link our efforts with employer and workforce demands.”

The group, which is expected to expand to represent the geographic and employer diversity of Kentucky, will have its initial meeting in June 2020.

“This is an impressive list of core members,” said Dr. Oleka. “And as I make my way around the state on my upcoming listening tour, I look forward to connecting with more business and community leaders and expanding this initial group.” 

The Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU) serves as the voice of Kentucky’s private, nonprofit, four-year colleges and universities. AIKCU’s 18 member colleges and universities serve more than 56,000 students and play a critical role in Kentucky’s postsecondary education system, awarding nearly 11,000 degrees annually.

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.

AIKCU Voices: Erin Carrus, Thomas More University

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at

Thomas More student Erin Carrus holding an ugly fish

When I was in elementary school, my older brother taught me the quadratic formula. He always pushed me to accomplish more than what was expected, and showed me by example to pursue life-long learning. I looked at about 20 different colleges, applied to a handful, and visited one—that’s all I needed. 

I signed to Thomas More as an athlete and accepted my spot in the honors program. In my last year of my undergraduate education, I am finishing a degree in mathematics and English with a minor in environmental science as the Student Government Association President and a two-sport athlete. 

The professors, advisors, coaches, and friends I have made at Thomas More have pushed me to accomplish more than was expected of me. Attending college here was one of the best decisions I have made. I will never stop learning. 

Erin Carrus 
Winchester, Kentucky
Thomas More University ’20

AIKCU Voices: TaLaura Mathis, Alice Lloyd College

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at

ALC female student TaLaura Mathis

My name is TaLaura Mathis, and I am a senior at Alice Lloyd College. Being raised in Eastern Kentucky has given me a heart for the people of the region and a desire to help through the field of Dentistry. I could have attended any other college in the state of Kentucky, but I chose ALC because of their unique graduate assistance program: The Caney Cottage Scholarship. The scholarship will allow me to begin my graduate degree at the University of Kentucky (UK) in the fall semester of 2020. I am humbled and excited to begin this experience. Whenever I tell my friends who attend other colleges that I am going to be living rent and utility free during my 4 years of dental school, they are so jealous and can’t believe that ALC offers such an awesome scholarship. I am literally going to be graduating with my undergraduate degree completely debt free. The only items I have had to pay for are my parking passes each year. That is completely unheard of, and I am so thankful!

Ever since my junior year in high school, I have worked at a local dentist office and gained valuable experience with dentistry. I have been exposed to so many people who are in dire need of dental care, lots of these people being young children. I hope to return to the mountains and provide a much-needed service for an underserved community. Eastern Kentucky has molded me as a person spiritually, mentally, and emotionally; this is why I want to return with my professional knowledge and give back to the area that has made me the person I am today.

Besides my experience in the academic field, I am also extremely grateful for the Student Work Program. Since my freshman year, I started working in the Marketing and Communications Department. I have been running the College’s social media accounts and working with photography. This work study position helped me get out of my comfort zone by interacting with many students, faculty, and staff. Also, it helped me strengthen my communication skills and improved my time management. Even though Marketing and Dentistry are on two completely opposite sides of the spectrum, I know this position has helped to prepare me for the vigorous journey I will encounter during dental school; and for that, I am extremely thankful.

I would like to add that many people I know think Alice Lloyd College is a college for students who are financially disadvantaged or can’t afford to attend college. Yes, Alice Lloyd College is less expensive than other schools, but it is a college for hardworking students who work for their education, are self-driven, and want to succeed. Students that attend ALC are motivated and have goals they want to accomplish in the best financial route they possibly can. This is why I chose ALC as my undergraduate home and it has given me the best college experience and prepared me for my next step in life.

TaLaura Mathis
Manchester, Kentucky
Alice Lloyd College ’20

AIKCU Voices: Jeremy Cloyd, Lindsey Wilson College ’15

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at

man in front of colorful background

My name is Jeremy Cloyd. I graduated in 2015 with a BA in Theatre and a BA in English from Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Kentucky. I grew up only 45 miles away in Tompkinsville, KY.  Interestingly enough, I did not choose LWC initially. I told myself repeatedly that there was no way I would go to a college so small and so close to my hometown. Aside from that, I wanted to pursue theatre, and there was only a minor in theatre offered at LWC in 2011 when I was applying – so why would I choose Lindsey?

Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That is exactly what got me to Lindsey and inevitably what kept me at Lindsey. I was intent on attending a larger state school. In fact, I only applied to Lindsey Wilson because an admissions counselor sat me down in the cafeteria and talked me through the application before I could leave for my daily internship. I had completely forgotten about LWC until the larger state institution sent me three emails, all of which were addressed to an eight digit number rather than “Jeremy.” The emails were vague and told me nothing about what I needed to do to become a part of their school. That same night, Sara Hargis (now Sara Foos), the admissions counsellor who had talked me through the application process, had a student ambassador call me to inform me that I was now eligible to compete for something called the Begley Scholarship. From there I sent dozens of emails to Sara, all of which were answered excitedly with both my name in the message and ways in which Sara could see me at Lindsey Wilson College. After bugging Sara for months, both in person and over the phone, about everything from financial aid to classes to housing, I finally ended up at Lindsey, and the rest seemed to fall into place. All of this to say, I don’t remember a single thing that the larger school did for me or offered me, but I remember how they made me feel: like a number. 

Coming from a very small high school, which graduated around 140 my senior year, expectations were fairly low for what I could do with my life. I constantly asked myself: “how can a guy from a town whose largest attraction is the Watermelon Festival each year, ever do the things that he dreamed of?” That is where the biggest shock of all came. From the first day I set foot on LWC’s campus, I learned that a small school doesn’t mean fewer opportunities, in fact it meant MORE opportunities for anyone willing to ask.  

I had the honor of being a part of numerous organizations at LWC, including the Lindsey Wilson Singers. The Lindsey Wilson Singers have taken me all over the country and the world. I have been on tours in the southeast, New England, the midwest, and the east coast. I was also blessed with the opportunity to go to Europe and perform in Paris, France as part of the Paris Choral Festival. I could talk all day about the amazing places I have gone and things I have done with the Lindsey Wilson Singers, but what I need to tell you is that Maya Angelou’s quote holds true here as well. I may forget the details of each tour and each concert, I may forget what the tux looks like, and I may forget the names of the songs we sang, but I will never forget the family I was a part of with the Lindsey Wilson Singers. 

Singers was a large part of my college experience, but clearly not the only factor. Coming into LWC I was immediately enrolled in my first college level acting class. I knew that there was only a minor for theatre here, but I also knew I still needed to have theatre in my life so I decided that was what I was going to do: minor in theatre. I became acquainted very quickly with this funny and sarcastic professor, Robert Brock. Little did I know that not only would he become one of my favorite professors academically, but he would become someone that I look up to and to whom I owe so much. In my Sophomore year, Robert came to me with this crazy question “If we were to have a major in theatre, would you want to pursue that?” I thought: “What kind of a question is that? Of course I would!”

Now I have to stop here to mention that I was in another major before this and called my parents at least once a semester for 4 semesters having a complete meltdown because I didn’t think I wanted to do that major but that it was “a stable career field” – whatever that means. So I changed my major, I traveled to New York City and worked with members of TWO broadway revivals of musicals, traveled to the American Shakespeare Center to watch amazing shows and do workshops, traveled to North Carolina for an audition that landed me a job for the most amazing summer of my life working in theatre, and even traveled to NYC again to audition for graduate schools and speak with their representatives. During my undergraduate career, I was in or worked on over 20 productions in my time at LWC. Again there are a million things I could say about the things I was told in classes and what I learned during each show, but it means much more to me that I felt like someone truly believed in me and supported my wild dreams and crazy ambitions. 

Upon graduating from LWC, I had several decisions to make about what I was going to do and where I was going to go. To bridge this, I accepted an internship with TheatreFest!, the summer theatre at LWC. While in this, I was offered the opportunity to stay on with LWC the following year working for AmeriCorps and doing several things with the Theatre Program, not the least of which was producing and directing a reader’s theatre production that highlighted latinx stories from Appalachia. While this position was drawing to an end, I was still searching for the next opportunity. Luckily, LWC wasn’t done with me yet. In 2016 I accepted a new position as the Assistant to the Director of Theatre. Up until this point, the Theatre Program was completely made up of one professor who had come to the college from a long career in professional theatre. While serving in this new position I was able to complete an MA in Theatre and begin teaching for the Theatre Program as an Adjunct Instructor.

This January I was fortunate enough to be named an Instructor of Theatre and begin working full time as a faculty member in the very program that helped to shape me as an artist and a person. While I have both worked professionally and taught Theatre, I find that none of what I have been able to accomplish would be possible without the education and opportunities presented to me while attending LWC. I can only hope now that I am able to inspire in my students the same trust in themselves that I had in 2015 when I walked across the stage and shook President Luckey’s hand knowing that I had everything I needed to begin my life and career, and a family that supported me every step of the way.

There’s a popular hashtag on twitter that supports this: #LWCisFamily. And this couldn’t be more true. No matter where I end up, I will always remember Lindsey Wilson College. LWCisFamily, and that is what I want to continue for years after I have left. I want people to say that I made them feel like family. 

Jeremy Cloyd
Tompkinsville/Columbia, Kentucky
Lindsey Wilson College ’15
Instructor of Theatre, LWC

AIKCU Voices: Kayla Smith, Union College

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at

Portrait of Union student Kayla Smith

As a Barbourville native, higher education was a crucial choice for me when considering my options for the future. The opportunity for higher education is a huge privilege, especially coming from a poverty-stricken community such as Knox County, but Union College provided me the chance to begin paving my dream of success through earning a degree! I knew that if I could take my years at Union and make good use of them, I could change my family’s entire trajectory for the generations to come, all starting with a degree. Union was a sure-fire choice when choosing colleges because it continued to provide me with the safe and family-oriented feel that I can call my home within my hometown!

College does have its obstacles that each student has to overcome, and for most, the biggest obstacle is finances. Financially, if Union wouldn’t have had so many opportunities for scholarships, I would have not been able to pursue my dream of earning a degree! Coming straight out of high school as a first-generation student, Union helped me to transition smoothly into college thanks to all of the faculty and staff that made me feel at home! Union gives students the chance to gain new relationships within a close-knit student body and explore who they are as go throughout their college years. Union has so many opportunities for students to step outside their normal box and explore new interests through the many clubs and student activities that are provided on campus. 

Kayla Smith
Barbourville, Ky.
Union College

AIKCU Voices: Abby Link, Thomas More University

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at

Thomas More University student Abby Link on campus

I grew up knowing I was going to go to college since middle school. My mom would say she would help all that she could, but that I would have to do the majority of the work myself. With being the baby of the family and being a part of a single-parent household, I knew I would have to rely on scholarships — otherwise, I might not be able to go to college. I still remember three years ago when I received my award letter from Thomas More in the mail. My mom and I jumped up and down with excitement. I instantly knew I would be attending Thomas More in the fall of 2017 double majoring in political science and economics. 

I’m now in my third year and I’ve made it further in higher education than any of my immediate family members. Being able to attend Thomas More has enhanced who I am as a leader and a student. I was extremely introverted and not involved at all when I stepped onto campus, but now I’m the president of the Student Activities Board, a resident assistant, and I have three work studies on campus through Institutional Advancement, Admissions, and the Orientation Program. Plus, I’ve added two minors to my double major. If I would have gone to any other school, there’s no way I would be as happy and successful as I am now. Thomas More has provided me with opportunities I couldn’t get anywhere else. 

Abby Link
Dry Ridge, Kentucky
Thomas More University ’21

AIKCU Voices: Zaida Jones, Transylvania University

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at

Transylvania student Zaida Jones outside on campus

Having the support of a scholarship has given me confidence and enabled me to stay focused on my academic goals of becoming a forensic pathologist. It has also created an opportunity for me to pursue my passion for environmental action on campus. As an active member of TEAL, the student environmental league, I have enjoyed making friendships and inspiring sustainable changes in my peers. This freedom to connect with my peers while solving issues that affect our environment has been the perfect way to grow as an individual.

Being pre-med and particularly interested in biology, I was very impressed with Transy’s science program as well as the rich tradition of preparing students for the trials and tribulations of medical school admittance. The one-on-one attention I have received in my first year of pre-med-focused courses have far exceeded my expectations. I have no doubt that I will continue to learn and grow as I prepare to apply for medical school my senior year.

Zaida Jones
Ashland, Kentucky
William T. Young Scholar
Transylvania University ’22

(originally published on Transy’s 1780 Blog)

AIKCU Voices: Clara Arnold, University of the Cumberlands ’19

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at

When I was looking into different colleges, I knew that I would stay in Kentucky because of KEES money, but that I wanted to spread my wings and not be within two hours of home. I wanted to go to a smaller, private, Christian school because I wanted a place where I would feel supported while growing in my faith as well as a place where I wouldn’t feel like a number.

After much prayer, two visits, and an amazing financial aid package, I packed my bags for Cumberlands. Since then, Cumberlands has helped me become the first out of my family to graduate college, and the aid and employment opportunities they provided me have allowed me to do so debt-free! The education that I have received here has set me up well for my future as I have entered the world of Graduate school, and the opportunity I was given to intern during my final semester paved the way for the Graduate Assistant position I now hold.

Clara Arnold
Murray, Kentucky
University of the Cumberlands ’19

AIKCU Voices: Dalton McCown, Alice Lloyd College

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at

Photo of ALC student Dalton McCown

I knew Alice Lloyd College was for me when I took my first walk along the Purpose Road. I had toured other colleges and being a Governor’s Scholar would’ve given me full-tuition at almost every public university in Kentucky, but of all the places I went, ALC was different. The people here are cut from a different fabric, they breathe a different air, they want to know you and most importantly, they want to help you. My personal relationships with mentors, professors, and fellow students are reasons why I didn’t apply to any other college or university. I knew what I wanted for undergraduate education, and the Purpose Road Philosophy not only exemplifies that but also encourages it. I know they say it takes a village to raise a child, but I have so much more than that here in Pippa Passes; I have a home.

I want to be a rural physician and come back to the mountains to help the people who helped me. I believe it’s only right to support those who have assisted me this far. My ultimate goal is to research substance abuse treatment methods and aid in the fight against the opiate epidemic that Eastern Kentucky currently faces. I am majoring in Biology (Pre-Medicine) while also minoring in English and Chemistry. While I strongly focus on my studies, I also stay involved in campus affairs by serving as Vice President of the Allied Health Club, participating in the ALC Theatre Club, and working as a teaching assistant in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics department. My love for English has inspired me to begin authoring a novel, and I frequently enter writing competitions on campus.

I’ve managed to find a place where people want me to succeed, a college that wants to help me do it with little to no cost to me, and a family to inspire me. I can’t fully express my gratitude to donors, faculty, and staff, who make this experience possible. They invested in me and when I come back to the mountains after medical school, their investment will pay off. That is my goal — my purpose.

Dalton McCown
Letcher County, Kentucky
Alice Lloyd College ’21