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Students from University of the Cumberlands address region’s top student-retention issues at Collegiate Summit at The Center for Rural Development


Student representatives from the University of the Cumberlands joined students from Kentucky colleges and universities at a Collegiate Summit on Sept. 18 at The Center for Rural Development in Somerset, Ky. hosted by The Center’s Higher Education Consortium.

To get a deeper look into issues in rural Kentucky that often lead students to leave the area, The Center for Rural Development’s Higher Education Consortium went to the source—today’s college students and the future leaders of Southern and Eastern Kentucky.

The Consortium invited student representatives from 14 Kentucky colleges and universities serving The Center’s 42-county primary service area and Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., to come together at a regional summit on Friday, Sept. 18, for a candid discussion on issues contributing to the out-migration of many of the region’s best and brightest students.

Dressed in their school colors, University of the Cumberland students Curt Lawson, Madison Wesley, Jacob Moak, Brook Blackburn, and Brittney House met at The Center’s headquarters in Somerset to provide input on how to keep more future leaders in Southern and Eastern Kentucky.

“There needs to be more job opportunities in Southern and Eastern Kentucky,” Blackburn said. “Students need to be provided a better education.

“The education needs to be college-prep centered,” she added. “Eastern Kentucky needs to be less isolated.”

During the summit, participants were encouraged to freely share their thoughts and concerns and speak out on issues affecting student retention. Their input is critical toward the belief of keynote speaker U.S. Congressman “Hal” Rogers—and shared by The Center—that “no young person should have to leave home to find his or her future.”

“Our young people today face a new generation of resources and obstacles,” Rogers, who serves Kentucky’s Fifth Congressional District, said at a luncheon for the participants. “We need to know their concerns about issues like the economy, education, healthcare, technology, and jobs.

“Our college students,” he added, “have a wealth of new ideas for the future of Southern and Eastern Kentucky.”

The event, entitled “Project IDEAS” (Insight and Dialogue Engaging Appalachian Students), was funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).

Input shared by participants will be used to help the organization shape strategic planning toward retaining the region’s youth, according to Lonnie Lawson, president and CEO of The Center.

“As the current and future leaders of our local communities, state and nation,” Lawson said, “we wanted to capture their enthusiasm, thoughts, and insight on improving the quality of life in Southern and Eastern Kentucky.”

Former University of Kentucky basketball player J.P. Blevins also attended the event and spoke to students about how important it is for them to have goals, dreams, and a vision for the future.

“Being able to share with the best and brightest of our area is an opportunity that I do not take lightly,” Blevins said. “I understand the importance of retaining this kind of talent and challenge them to make a difference in the lives of their communities.”

Ideas and insight generated from the collegiate summit will also be shared with the region’s leaders and the ARC.

“Thanks to the ARC, a new line of communication opened today between our students and current leaders,” Rogers said. “Together, we hope to find solutions for immediate problems and those that could meet our students at retirement age.”