Guide to Colleges & Universities in Kentucky (KY)

Education in Kentucky

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Kentucky is home to 117 colleges, universities, career schools, vocational institutes and other postsecondary institutions. Here’s how the campus locations of colleges and universities in Kentucky break down by type, also according to NCES data:

  • Public 4-year: 8
  • Public 2-year: 16
  • Private 4-year, nonprofit: 28
  • Private 2-year, nonprofit: 3
  • Private 4-year, for-profit: 20

Number of Institutions in Kentucky

A few career-oriented colleges in Kentucky operate on a model that aims to grant vocational degrees and certifications in less than two years of full-time study. These institutions typically cater to students seeking entry into a field where professional success depends primarily on specific technical or technological skills. Beauty schools and health science colleges typically fit this description, as well as some auto mechanic schools and vocational institutes that teach skills like pharmacy assisting, home care technology and HVAC/R.

The NCES also compiles reports on students who complete their degrees at colleges and universities in Kentucky, and a 2014 report shows that 56,592 graduating students in Kentucky earned 71,432 degrees and certificates from federal financial aid-eligible institutions in the 2011-12 academic year. That works out to an average of almost 1.3 degrees per graduate, considerably higher than the national average of 1.05. The high number of degrees per graduate is borne up primarily by students at Kentucky’s two-year institutions, whose 18,185 graduates earned 32,208 degrees — nearly two degrees each — during the survey year.

Here are some total student enrollment numbers collected from public universities and colleges in Kentucky, current as of a report released in August 2014:

  • University of Kentucky: 30,104
  • University of Louisville: 24,839
  • Western Kentucky University: 23,727
  • Eastern Kentucky University: 18,582
  • Jefferson Community & Technical College: 18,792
  • Bluegrass Community & Technical College: 17,869
  • Northern Kentucky University: 17,725
  • Murray State University: 11,976
  • Somerset Community College: 10,807
  • Morehead State University: 10,324

Total 2012 enrollment in the eight 4-year public universities in Kentucky was 84,998, according to the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, with public 2-year college enrollment reaching 126,847 the same year.

Online education in Kentucky

Improvements in the accessibility and multimedia aspects of distance learning technology have led to rampant growth in the number of online classes and degrees offered at institutions around the country, and Kentucky colleges and universities are following suit in a major way. Each year more prospective students are coming to appreciate the twin advantages of schedule flexibility and a generally lower financial burden that come with pursuing a continued education in the virtual classroom.

A number of online programs offered by colleges and universities in state have caught the attention of national educational observers and academic ranking agencies. Here are several Kentucky educational institutions and their online programs as described on national rankings lists published in 2014 by U.S. News and World Report:

Even though this list shows a fair number of the degrees available from online colleges in Kentucky, not all types of degree are ranked by U.S. News and World Report. Programs in such subjects as communications, psychology, criminal justice, organizational management, public administration, occupational therapy, fire science and more can be found through online departments at Kentucky colleges, and individual institutions may have other online programs available for students with specific academic needs.

Students considering online degrees in Kentucky should be careful to ensure their selected program is offered by an accredited institution, because employers and registrars tend to only recognize a degree as legitimate if it’s from a program that’s been recognized by a regional or professional accrediting agency. Most accredited online schools make their accreditation information accessible on the Web, and established brick-and-mortar universities in Kentucky typically only offer accredited degrees to their online students.

Top jobs and careers in Kentucky

Career markets can vary quite a bit from region to region, at the state as well as national level. Here are a few of the top careers in Kentucky, according to data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and other sources, along with a few attendant details to help potential job candidates in each field understand what makes each one a Kentucky standout:

OccupationTop regionsWhy it’s hotNecessary skillsRelevant degrees
Accountants and AuditorsLouisville, LexingtonThe BLS expects around 166,700 new accountant and auditor jobs nationwide between 2012 and 2022, which works out to an expected employment growth rate of approximately 13 percent. A 2014 Kentucky Labor Market Information report indicates a bright outlook for aspiring accountants in the state, and accounting professionals in the Lexington area reported a mean annual wage of $69,900 in 2013.Mathematical precision, critical thinking, complex problem solving, written and oral comprehension, inductive reasoning, computer skills, organization, data analysis, time managementEven entry level accountants are typically required to have at least a bachelor’s degree before they can be considered for employment, and many companies and firms specifically hire candidates who have passed the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) test or other credentialing exams. A degree in accounting is a time-tested way to prepare for an accounting career, but certain employers may accept degrees in finance or other related fields
Diagnostic Medical SonographersLexington, Bowling GreenBLS numbers show that diagnostic medical sonographer jobs are on the rise all over the country, and Kentucky is certainly no exception. In fact, with an expected employment increase of 46 percent between 2012 and 2022, sonographers and ultrasound technicians are members of the fifth-fastest growing job field in the country. Kentucky’s statewide growth expectations aren’t far off, with state sources projecting a regional increase of 45 percent by 2022.Medical terminology, hand-eye coordination, precision movement, oral comprehension, speech clarity, attention to detail, interpersonal skills, procedural familiarity, clinical hygieneSome form of dedicated education or training is typically required for diagnostic medical sonographer jobs, whether it leads to an academic degree or a vocational certificate. A health and medical sciences degree can provide thorough training for careers in sonography and other technical health care fields, and a degree in medical technology aims to prepare students for the demands and responsibilities of high-tech diagnostic medicine.
Administrative Services ManagersLouisville, Lexington, OwensboroFrom farms to factories and hotels to hospitals, just about every company out there needs skilled administrative services professionals to help keep things running smoothly behind the scenes. Data indicates that Kentucky is home to some of the top locations for administrative services managers nationwide, with the state’s projected job growth of 38 percent between 2012 and 2022 more than tripling the national expected increase of 12 percent during the same period.Speaking, listening, reading comprehension, time management, critical thinking, team leadership, attention to detail, data analysis, negotiation, professional communication, organizing, planning, prioritizingAlthough specific educational requirements may vary based on the type of organization and the exact nature of the position, some employers may expect their administrative services managers candidates to have a business administration degree or other relevant bachelor-level education. A company’s industry can influence its educational requirements, also, meaning that candidates at hospitality companies or engineering firms or may have better prospects with a hospitality management degree or a degree in engineering.
Registered NursesLouisville for total number of jobs, Bowling Green and Elizabethtown for opportunities per capitaWith the Baby Boomers aging into retirement and an increase in the general availability of medical treatment and other clinical services, registered nursing shows no signs of slowing down as a hot health care career. The BLS expects the creation of more than 500,000 new registered nurse jobs nationwide, and a projected 20 percent increase in statewide employment should spell good prospects for nurses in Kentucky.Critical thinking, organizational skills, medical terminology, attention to detail, empathy, active listening, reading comprehension, speech clarity, clinical hygiene, decision making, emotional stabilityMultiple education paths exist for aspiring registered nurses, and all three can help kick off a rewarding career. Diploma programs typically contain little or no general education requirement, while students who earn an associate degree in nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN degree) often study anatomy, psychology, chemistry, nutrition, liberal arts and other staples of higher education.
Elementary School TeachersLouisville, as well as non-metropolitan areas in Eastern and southern KentuckyEmployment of elementary school teachers in Kentucky is projected to grow about as fast as the national average between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS and state reports. Expectations of increased student enrollment and other factors have set the growth figures at 12 percent nationwide but 14 percent in Kentucky, although employment prospects for educators do often vary from district to district.Instructing, group speaking, active listening, written expression, social perceptiveness, problem sensitivity, deductive reasoning, empathy, creative thinking, organization, ability to work collaborativelyA bachelor’s degree is required of elementary school teacher candidates at most schools, whether public or private. Teachers in some states must have a degree in their chosen subject area, which is to say that history teachers would need a degree in history to teach the subject. In some states or districts, depending on the needs of individual schools, candidates with a K-12 education degree or a degree in early childhood education may be especially desirable.

Potential job candidates who do a little digging might discover that, while some occupations in Kentucky may offer lower annual salaries than the national mean, there’s a hidden force at work on salary data in the Bluegrass State. The Center for Community and Economic Research publishes a cost of living index every quarter, and Kentucky has remained solidly among the top 10 most affordable states for several reports running. When daily living expenses like housing, transportation, utility payments and groceries take a smaller bite out of each paycheck, every dollar seems to stretch a little bit farther.

It’s also important to point out there’s no such thing as a degree that guarantees employment to graduates. Joining extracurricular societies that focus on applying the skills and theories of the classroom can elevate career prospects, and programs that include an internship or other professional experience component may open doors as well.

Kentucky financial aid info

A whole host of factors can have an influence on the total cost of a student’s college education. Private institutions tend to come with a higher price tag than public schools, for example, and certain major areas of study may come with laboratory fees or other subject-specific expenses.

There is a general upward trend in the cost of education, which was recently illustrated by some revealing data in a 2014 report from the College Board. Here’s a quick picture of how much the average cost of a year’s tuition and fees at colleges in Kentucky has changed over the past decade, to help prospective students get an idea of what they may end up paying for their education:

  • Public 2-year in-state
    • 2004-05: $3,484
    • 2013-14: $4,461
  • Public 4-year in-state
    • 2004-05: $5,630
    • 2013-14: $9,188
  • Private 4-year nonprofit
    • 2004-05: $18,416
    • 2013-14: $25,275

Kentucky Tuition and Fee Costs

Colleges and universities in Kentucky typically ask new students to fill out the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), before they even register for classes. Sources of student financial aid at the state or institutional levels tend to also make use of the information recorded on the federal application, so it’s important for any student seeking financial aid to make sure their FAFSA is filled out completely and accurately.

Multiple state-level organizations exist to help Kentucky students find the aid they need. The Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA) has been active since 1966, administering various financial aid programs and providing informational resources about higher learning institutions and opportunities for aid.

Other statewide resources include the Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation (KHESLC) and, for students whose postsecondary ambitions are clear early on in their educational career, Kentucky’s Affordable Prepaid Tuition (KAPT) program, which allows them or their parents to prepay tuition years in advance as a hedge against the inevitable rise of college costs.

Although the FAFSA does tend to serve as an all-purpose repository for qualifying financial aid information, students interested in state or private plans are encouraged to look into the particulars of each applicable program and make sure that there are no additional requirements for qualification.

To find out more about some of the schools and programs available in Kentucky, be sure to check out the ones featured in our school listings below.

Article Sources


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