Addressing the shortage of healthcare teachers and workers – The Lane Report | Team Cansler

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education President Aaron Thompson outlined the agency’s legislative priorities for higher education in 2023 at a council meeting Friday.

Priorities include addressing Kentucky’s teacher and health worker shortages, strengthening K-12-to-college pathways, and improving access to post-secondary programs for working-age adults.

“Our priorities are based on meeting the needs of Kentucky residents for quality, relevant higher education and the needs of local industry for a highly qualified workforce with in-demand skills,” said Thompson. “The programs we are putting in place to meet these needs are based on hundreds of hours of conversations with educators, state officials, students and business leaders, as well as quantitative data on our progress toward Kentucky’s educational goals.”

Address the teacher shortage

Kentucky, like much of the country, is facing a critical teacher shortage exacerbated by the pandemic, school safety concerns, impending retirements of late-career educators, high turnover rates for new hires, and other factors. According to the Kentucky Department of Education, 72% of the state’s 42,000 full-time teachers are at risk of leaving the profession.

Job openings for teachers have increased every year since 2015, but on average only an estimated 83% of these positions are filled. And since 2015, Kentucky has seen an increase in the number of emergency certifications issued.

“Kentucky’s K-12 system and our colleges and universities must work hand-in-hand on initiatives to hire, train and retain significantly more high-quality teachers, especially in critical areas of shortage like math and science,” Thompson said. “We also need to diversify the teaching workforce by increasing the number of black, Hispanic, and other minority people in the profession.”

CPE’s action plan in this area includes the creation of a pilot project to prepare teachers through grants in partnership with public bodies and with a focus on innovative and affordable programmes. Pilots may include: a focus on program alignment and transfer between two- and four-year public institutions, flexible programming to include credit for prior learning programs to reduce time to completion, flexible field experiences, alternatives to teacher license assessment and graduation-related supports for students.

The organization’s proposal also includes the creation of a pilot teacher education project through grants administered by CPE and the Kentucky Department of Education in partnership with public post-secondary institutions and local school districts. This pilot would focus on creating a path to teaching for those interested in a non-traditional approach to a degree or certification, while removing barriers to the teaching profession.

Addressing the shortage of skilled workers in healthcare

Federal funding provided to CPE by the General Assembly earlier this year to improve the talent pipeline for Kentucky’s frontline healthcare workers led to the creation of the Kentucky Healthcare Workforce Collaborative. Legislators mandated CPE to build partnerships between public higher education institutions and healthcare employers to focus on attracting talented students into healthcare careers and retaining students in the healthcare workforce pipeline. Thompson said this has been an extremely successful endeavor so far, but there is still work to be done.

CPE plans to expand the scope of the Healthcare Workforce Collaborative to include a focus on mental health services and professionals. The State of Mental Health in America 2022 ranks Kentucky 30th for mental health workforce availability, and more than half of people with diagnosed mental illness are not receiving treatment. This urgent need for more mental health support is also evident on campus. A national survey of college students returning to campus this fall shows nearly 70% have mental health issues related to anxiety or depression.

Facilitate transitions from K-12 to college

The successful transition of high school seniors to college is critical to strengthening the state’s workforce. However, the proportion of Kentucky High School graduates who enter postsecondary education immediately after graduation continues to decline. Over the past five years, that percentage has fallen from 59% to 54%, well below the national average of 66%. In addition, the trend is accelerating, declining by three percentage points from 2019 to 2020. Overall, only 54% of Kentucky’s high school graduates statewide went to college, while only 48% went to a state university. If this trend continues, the proportion of adult graduates in the labor force will continue to fall.

CPE’s work in this area includes the Kentucky Advising Academy, a professional learning series designed for school and district leaders. The Academy builds advisory capacity through collaboration and coaching with college and university partners to ensure that learning in our schools, districts and higher education institutions is systematic, strategic and sustainable.

The action plan for this area includes strengthening readiness for higher education through an online platform that will incentivize enrollment through micro-scholarships and other strategies, providing a forum for students to share their achievements and start building well before decision day establishing relationships with institutions. CPE also plans to implement a unified online application system for Kentucky to reduce the complexity of navigating the application process and will continue to push for legislation encouraging more Kentuckians to complete the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to ensure that all eligible students receive the maximum state and federal aid.

Improving access to education for working-age adults

Enrolling working-age adults in college has become more important than ever, according to a CPE analysis. Kentucky’s labor force participation rate is among the lowest in the country, which hampers the state’s economic development. A major factor in the state’s low labor force participation rate is the low post-secondary educational attainment of Kentucky’s working-age adults.

An estimated 65-85% of jobs today require an education, qualification, or degrees beyond a high school diploma or GED. Yet in Kentucky, only 49% of working-age adults have earned a degree or qualification, according to the Lumina Foundation.

Even as overall post-secondary enrollment is stabilizing after the pandemic, adult enrollment has continued to decline for decades, with working-age adult enrollment down by 50% since 2012-13. Kentucky needs to develop innovative and effective ways to increase enrollment and graduation for adult learners who are struggling to balance the competing demands of work, life, family and school.

CPE’s priorities in this area include expanding flexible academic programs to better meet the needs of busy adults. Campus grants administered by CPE would support the expansion and quality of the program, which is aligned with the needs of the Kentucky workforce. Grants would also be available to strengthen prior learning program (CPL) credit for military-related citizens and other students who are bringing prior learning and work experience to their college programs. CPL is an important tool to reduce time to graduation and reduce college costs, but it is not widely used in Kentucky.

Kentucky closes performance gaps

Thompson said these priorities will build on the state’s five-year progress toward its goal of having 60% of Kentuckians graduate or qualified by 2030. The goal will bring the state closer to the projected national average and make Kentucky more competitive in an economy where most new jobs require a postsecondary credential.

Thompson reported that the state’s six-year graduation rate increased 7.6 percentage points from 2016 to 2021. The graduation rate among underrepresented minorities exceeded the overall increase and increased by 9.5 percentage points. Graduations from public universities increased by 2% over the same period, while degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities increased by 25%. At the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, grades have increased 28% over the past five years; Credits awarded to underrepresented minority students at KCTCS increased 46% over the same period.

“The data shows that we are doing an excellent job of closing the performance gap for underrepresented minority students because we keep equity at the forefront of everything we do,” said Thompson. “CPE has formed a standalone Diversity, Equity and Inclusion department to drive government programming. We still have a lot to do, but we have a lot of progress to be proud of.”

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