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Complete College America selects nine Kentucky institutions that will strengthen the college-to-work pipeline by integrating career planning, advising, and exploration into the student experience 

March 24, 2022

INDIANAPOLISComplete College America (CCA), a national non-profit organization on a mission to raise postsecondary attainment in the United States, today announced the selection of nine partner colleges and universities that will participate in Kentucky Purpose First; a statewide initiative focused on strengthening the connection between higher education and the needs of the workforce in the Bluegrass State. Leveraging $550,000 in funding from Lumina Foundation, the colleges and universities participating in the Kentucky Purpose First initiative will work to build stronger college-to-work pathways, particularly for historically excluded students. 

The members of the Kentucky Purpose First initiative include: Bellarmine University, Hazard Community & Technical College, Kentucky State University, Midway University, Morehead State University, Northern Kentucky University, Simmons College of Kentucky, Spalding University, and the University of Louisville.

“College completion is and always will be critical to social mobility, but ensuring that students complete credentials of value in the workforce must be our north star,” said Dr. Yolanda Watson Spiva, president of Complete College America. “To ensure that students of every background can benefit from the promise of higher education, we need to transform career exploration and career development—moving it from an afterthought to the foreground of the student experience, at every level and at every institution.”

AUDIO: Listen to a “CCA On The Air” podcast with CCA’s Strategy Director Nikolas Huot about the Kentucky Purpose First initiative. 

While enrollment has declined at many colleges and universities in Kentucky during the pandemic, longitudinal research suggests that earning a degree or credential leads to a powerful return on investment in the job market. According to Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), a bachelor’s degree recipient in Kentucky earns more than $1 million than a high school graduate over a lifetime, while associate degree graduates earn $422,000 more. In 2017, 85% of Kentucky residents who were unemployed or out of the labor market were individuals without a postsecondary degree or credential, accounting for 88% of SNAP recipients, 86% of Medicaid recipients, and 94% of federal disability recipients.

Built in collaboration with Kentucky CPE and Kentucky Community & Technical College System, and the KY Student Success Collaborative, the Kentucky Purpose First initiative is designed to help embed career planning, exploration, and advising throughout the undergraduate student experience—and ultimately help students attain early milestones to achieve on-time college completion. To accomplish that goal, CCA has assembled a cohort of nine colleges and universities across Kentucky, representing a diverse cross-section of institution types, missions, and geographic locations. 

This newly-announced cohort includes community colleges, four-year private and public universities, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and institutions located in urban-metropolitan and rural areas. These institutions will work to design, implement and share high-impact practices to align their academic offerings—and the student experience—with the workforce. 

Over the next 18 months, Kentucky Purpose First members will work to transform the student onboarding process for first-time students to provide them with regional labor market data and insights into how their major and concentrations of choice will connect to career opportunities. Each college will build a database of competencies that match in-demand careers in the regions they serve, which will translate into academic plans that help students understand their potential career outcomes after completing their degree. To extend the focus on career development into classroom instruction, the colleges will also pilot new approaches to integrating specific professional skills and competencies into undergraduate curricula and syllabi.

“Higher education is a strategic investment. We need to ensure our students invest wisely and align their educational experiences with a long-term career plan,” said Aaron Thompson, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. “To meet the needs of our state economy and workforce, we need to guarantee that our higher education system meets the career objectives of all students while helping more Kentucky colleges and universities to develop quality, holistic educational offerings that are tightly aligned with the needs of employers.”

Developed with the support from Kentucky CPE, the Kentucky Purpose First initiative extends the state’s long-running focus on increasing higher education attainment to help meet the complex demands of the state’s changing economy and workforce. In 2015, Kentucky announced an ambitious plan to increase the number and proportion of working adults with postsecondary degrees or credentials to 60% by the year 2030. 

For more than 10 years, Kentucky has been a highly engaged member of CCA’s Alliance, which includes states, systems, institutional consortia, and partner organizations taking bold actions to significantly increase the number of students successfully completing college. To learn more, visit


About Complete College America: Complete College America (CCA) builds movements for scaled change and transforms institutions through data-driven policies, student-centered perspectives, and equity-driven practices. Since its founding in 2009, CCA connects a national network of forward-thinking state and higher education leaders and introduces bold initiatives to help states and institutions confront inequities, close institutional performance gaps, and increase college completion rates, especially for marginalized and historically excluded students.