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The study into a Hazard Community University

Hazard Community and Technical College Campus
Hazard Community and Technical College Campus

The possibility of locating a new four-year post-secondary institution in southeastern Kentucky remains a topic of discussion. That interest is certainly found in the eastern Kentucky region as well as in the State Capital.

Talk of establishing a new four-year, residential, public university in Appalachia Kentucky has been around for quite a while, according to both educators and lawmakers. But, such a proposition got a shot in the arm with a 2023 Senate resolution calling for a study into that possibility. Senate President Robert Stivers has been the author of two different resolutions on the matter.

Kentucky Senate 2024
Stu Johnson
Kentucky Senate 2024

“What are the needs in that area? Are they feasible? Is it something that can be done without damaging or is there other institutions or is there some collaboration that could take place?” asked Stivers.

Last year’s resolution, approved in both Houses and signed by the governor, called upon the Kentucky Council on Post-secondary Education to study placing a four-year school in southeastern Kentucky. The resolution under consideration this session is more pointed, asking the CPE to study specifically converting the existing Hazard and Community Technical College into such an institution. Hazard Senator Brandon Smith said it doesn’t hurt to have the leader in the Senate doing the asking.

“He wasn’t guaranteeing anything but he was certainly putting it out there to see if there’s enough support in that chamber, so that’s where we’re at. We’re hoping that enough people see the need down there. Course they have needs of their own but education should be something that everybody in the state should have access to and clearly we need it in our region,” said Smith.

Ryan Quarles is the new president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. He said his agency takes any resolution from the General Assembly on the question of is there a higher education desert seriously.

“We’re going to assist with the study and any directive that our policymakers in Frankfort prescribe to us. And so, I’m gonna hold our powder and see what the study says,” said Quarles.

This would be the second study in as many years for the CPE. Aaron Thompson is the president of the governing body for the public university system. If given final legislative approval, Thompson said this review would be more specific about costs.

“So, I think we’ve got a good idea of what some of the things could be. We’ll have to do a study on how much it cost and really present a price tag with it this time. A more realistic price tag because we didn’t have a chance to do that before. So, we’ll pick up where SJ 98 left off and we’ll come up with a more solid set of numbers and directions,” said Thompson.

Thompson envisions this review to examine a potential mix of degree offerings and engage employers at a higher level.

Robert Higdon is a 37-year-old student at Hazard Community and Technical College. The eastern Kentuckian is taking classes while working in hopes of moving fully into an I-T job. Higdon admits his mindset wasn’t always on higher education.

“Growing up in Leslie County, one of those places where if you have to choose to taking the time to do school or if you have an opportunity to get a job that was always the priority. So, starting out I would have liked to but working took priority and now I’m able to do both,” said Higdon.

Robert Higdon-HCTC Student
Robert Higdon-HCTC Student

Higdon has four children age ten and under. He said he can set an example for them and it does create some interesting discussion.

“It blows their minds when I say daddy has to do homework and they’re like what do you mean you have homework? Well daddy’s taking classes too and it always makes them smile and I love that,” said Higdon.

Higdon noted he’d love to see HCTC become a four-year school. He added many potential students want to stay close to family and he feels it would spur economic growth in the Hazard community.

HCTC President Dr. Jennifer Lindon
HCTC President Dr. Jennifer Lindon

Taking a keen interest in the Frankfort discussion is Hazard Community and Technical College President Jennifer Lindon. The Hazard native said such a transformation would be good fit for many in the region.

“I think about a single mother who may live up in the head of a hollow, who doesn’t have reliable transportation, doesn’t have reliable internet, and so she can’t currently access that bachelor’s degree,” said Lindon.

Lindon said much of the infrastructure for such a transition from a two-year to a four-year institution is in place. She said the administration there would be looking to the Legislature for funding support for new housing and dining facilities.

“We’re not looking at traditional dorms. We’re looking at more apartment-style housing. Maybe 48 units to where we could have single parents who live there with their children,” said Lindon.

Although much remains in the way of studying this possibility, brainstorming on the HCTC campus is occurring. And that includes how a change might impact course offerings.

“We would offer an additional three to five starting out bachelor’s degrees. So, we wouldn’t be doing everything all at once and I don’t think it would ever be the intent that we would offer a large number of bachelor’s degrees. They would be very localized to meet community needs,” said Lindon.

Dr. Lindon said there’s been discussion about education, bachelor of science in nursing, business and information technology, human services, and perhaps criminal justice. The head of HCTC noted a degree offering partnerships with other schools like EKU, Morehead State, Kentucky State, Lindsey Wilson, and Midway would continue. In fact, Lindon added there’s been talk of expanding offerings through the University Center of the Mountains Program.

All of this consideration comes with a big caveat. The resolution asking for the CPE study has yet to get a vote in either legislative chamber. The General Assembly session ends the middle of April.

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Stu has been reporting for WEKU for more than 35 years. His primary beat is Lexington/Fayette government.
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