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Report: Lack of college grads hurts Letcher County




Increasing the number of Letcher County residents who hold college degrees is the “quickest, most direct way” to improve the county’s economic prosperity.

A report released recently by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education shows that counties with high numbers of college graduates also have high household median incomes, while those with low numbers of college graduates have low household median incomes.

The report shows that the median household income for Letcher County, where only 7.7 percent of the people have a four-year college degree, is $21,110. That’s $12,652 less than the Kentucky average of $33,672 per household and $20,884 less than the U.S. median household income of $41,994. By comparison, the average household income in Fayette County, where a stateleading 35.6 percent of county residents have a four-year college degree, is $39,813.

“This report confirms the direct connection between education and quality of life,” said Brad Cowgill, interim president of the Council on Postsecondary Education.

Cowgill made the report’s Letcher County findings available recently to Whitesburg Mayor James W. Craft and to other leaders he is calling on to take part in the state’s campaign to “Double the Number” of college graduates by the year 2020.

“Kentucky can achieve a sustainable increase in per capita income only by increasing the number of college graduates,” Cowgill wrote. “The evidence is indisputable.”

According to the “Kentucky Postsecondary Education Profile 2008-10” released by the Council, Letcher County has a per capita income of $11,984, far below the state average of $18,093 and the national average of $21,587. The report says 27.1 percent of the county’s residents are living in poverty, a number far higher than the state average of 15.8 percent and national average of 12.4 percent.

The report also shows that:

• 41.5 percent of Letcher County’s adult residents do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent. The average of adults without a high school diploma is 25.9 percent. The national average is 19.8 percent.

• 32.9 percent of Letcher County’s adult residents do have a high school diploma or equivalent. That’s less than a percentage point under the state average of 33.6 percent, and 4.3 percent higher than the national average of 28.6 percent.

• 13.3 percent of Letcher County’s adult residents have attended college without getting a degree. The state average for residents who have some college is 18.5 percent. The national average is 21 percent.

• Letcher County needs 2,834 additional bachelor’s degree holders to bring the county’s average of 7.7 percent in line with the state average of 17.1 percent and the national average of 24.4 percent.

• 4.6 percent of Letcher County’s residents have a twoyear college degree. The state average for two-year degrees is 4.9 percent. The national average is 6.3 percent.

According to the report, Letcher County residents who take the ACT college entrance exam score an average of 19.2, slightly under the state average score of 20.6. However, a whopping 74.3 percent of county residents who will enter college have developmental needs in one or more subjects. The percentage of Kentucky residents entering college with such needs is 45.9.

The percentage of county residents entering college with developmental needs in mathematics is 67.1, more than double the state percentage of 35.4. The percentage of county residents entering college with developmental needs in English is 50.7, again well above the state average of 28.6 percent.

The report also looks at the number of Letcher County residents who have jobs and in what field those are located. The report says that of Letcher County’s total population of 25,277, only 6,428 have jobs. Of those who do hold jobs, 1,382 work in mining or other natural resources; 307 have jobs in manufacturing or construction; 1,191 work in retail, wholesale, transportation, and utilities; 689 have jobs in finance, professional, or business services; 1,129 work in health and health educational services; 1,281 hold jobs in government service and public education, and 449 work in services related to leisure and hospitality.

In his letter to Craft and other leaders, Cowgill said the Council on Postsecondary Education “takes great pride in the accuracy, timeliness and relevancy of its data.”

Of the 5,125 Letcher County residents who do hold college degrees, 1,244 are alumni of the University of Kentucky; 21 graduated from the University of Louisville; 484 got their degree from Eastern Kentucky University; 573 finished college at Morehead State University, and 1,892 were graduated by the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Those graduating from independent colleges and universities total 899. Five have graduated from Western Kentucky University, four from Northern Kentucky University, and three from Murray State University.

The report found that only five of Kentucky’s 120 counties are at or above the national average in the percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher. These counties include Fayette (35.6%), Oldham (30.6%), Woodford (25.9%), Jefferson (24.8%) and Warren (24.7%).

Other key findings of the report show:

• Four counties need less than 500 additional bachelor’s degree holders to meet the national average: Calloway (75), Franklin (180), Robertson (246) and Rowan (311).

• Nine counties are above the national average of $41,994 in median household income including: Oldham ($63,229), Boone ($53,593), Woodford ($49,491), Scott ($47,081), Spencer ($47,042), Shelby ($45,534), Anderson ($45,433), Bullitt ($45,106) and Kenton ($43,906) Counties.

• In 23 counties, 60 percent or more of high school graduates enrolled in a Kentucky college in 2006; the highest college-going rate occurred in Robertson County, where 69 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college. In eight counties, less than 40 percent entered college in 2006.

• In 16 counties, 30 percent or more of the population are living in poverty. Statewide, 15.8 percent of Kentuckians live in poverty, topping the national average of 12.4 percent.

To view the full report, visit the Council’s Web site at http:// www.cpe.ky.gov/info/county.


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