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Editorial: Gateway's Move to Covington Represents Net Loss of Students

There’s a dark cloud in the recent announcement by Gateway Community and Technical College that it is moving more programs to the Urban Campus. 
 
The 2-mile relocation of some programs from their current Covington (Amsterdam Road) location to downtown Covington actually represents a net loss of educational opportunities in Northern Kentucky’s heavily populated urban core.
 
Why?
 
Because essential training programs such as HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) and Plumbing that produce employable graduates are being relocated to a campus in Boone County which is a 30-mile round-trip drive from the Covington campus.
 
Most urban students do not own a car, and without regular and reliable public transportation access from any of the river cities, this move slams the door shut on these students. Nor does this move expand opportunities to other essential parts of Gateway’s service area in other river cities such as Newport, Bellevue and Dayton.
 
The main purpose of Gateway’s urban campus is to provide accessible, affordable, and quality training programs for residents of Northern Kentucky’s urban core, the part of our region with the greatest concentration of poverty. If the urban campus means a reduction in training programs its purpose is not being met.
 
The nation and this region are facing a skills gap in the middle skill jobs, the jobs that require some post-secondary education but less than a bachelor’s degree. The middle skill jobs include maintenance and repair workers, industrial machinery mechanics, HVAC and refrigeration mechanics and installers, plumbers and electricians, to name but a few. These are the jobs that allow one to earn a wage sufficient to support a family. They also tend to be taught and learned best in a project based, applied learning environment as opposed to the lecture hall approach most common in the college environment.
 
If we want to deal with poverty through education you don’t do it by moving the education programs further away.
 
44% of all job openings in the South through 2018 require middle skill employees. Employers across the nation and in this region rightfully complain about their inability to find and hire people with the requisite skills. Our education providers can’t address the issues by relocating the training programs away from the population center.
 
One of the great challenges of this day is engaging young men in post-secondary training and the workforce. Young men have lower college going rates, their participation in the labor market has plummeted in the last decade, and for those in the labor market, their unemployment rate is the highest. There is a huge need for training programs that provide young men with a pathway to a decent job. The middle skill training programs being moved out of Covington are exactly the types of programs that give young men the best opportunity for meaningful economic participation.
 
You will hear Gateway argue that their interests are serviced by having these like-type programs on the Boone County campus. Access to the Boone campus is a problem that hasn’t been addressed in any meaningful way. Bus access is infrequent, inconvenient and time consuming. One student said it takes as much as an hour and a half to get from Covington to Gateway with the routing and intervening stops. 
 
You can drive to Louisville faster.
 
Last Saturday’s events are a reminder of the cultural differences that make Boone County a less than welcoming environment for urban residents. The “Day of the White Man’s March” - complaints that diversity equals white genocide, protests that feature KKK attire - all create a worrisome, hostile environment for the less well-to-do. 
 
A Gateway Community and Technical College urban campus that focuses on general education and transfer courses and the liberal arts, but excludes training programs for the middle skill jobs, will not meet the needs of the populations nearest the school. Expand the urban campus to include middle skill job training opportunities. Unless we do, the Gateway Urban campus will fulfill neither its hope nor its promise.
 
Joseph U. Meyer (pictured) is former Secretary of the Kentucky’s Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.