National report shows KCTCS earn-and-learn program, KY FAME, has outstanding outcomes | SKYCTC

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National report shows KCTCS earn-and-learn program, KY FAME, has outstanding outcomes

Male and femal employees working in factory on machines

Franklin, Ky. – Not long ago, Ricky Brown, approaching 40 and wanting a raise, decided to go to college. After he earned a degree, his salary increased by 40%.

Mr. Brown didn’t get a traditional four-year degree, though, or even a traditional two-year one. He went through an apprenticeship-style program in Kentucky. New research shows it is paying off big for graduates, who typically earn nearly six figures within five years of graduation.

Mr. Brown, who dropped out of high school, now earns $72,000 a year maintaining and repairing machinery for an aluminum factory in Russellville, Ky. “I wanted to show my kids anything’s possible if you just want it and try hard enough,” said the 41-year-old father of two. Brown is a recent graduate of Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College’s (SKYCTC) chapter of the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (SKY FAME) program. 

KY FAME is an earn-and-learn program in which the colleges of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) work with local companies to prepare students for advanced manufacturing careers.

Opportunity America and the Brookings Institution have released a new report on the success of KY FAME, that shows just how well the program is working and shares outcomes for its graduates. 

Working with KCTCS, the Kentucky Center for Statistics, the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education and program graduates, Opportunity America and Brookings reported the following based on data from 2010-11 through 2016-17:

KY FAME graduates have a higher completion rate than those not in the program. Roughly 80 percent completed KY FAME. Higher completion rates were seen no matter what race or gender the student was.

KY FAME graduates have higher earnings. The one, three and five-year earnings show a significant difference for KY FAME graduates vs. non-FAME graduates. Five years into their careers, FAME graduates are earning nearly $100,000, which is $45,000 more than the non-FAME graduates.
94 percent of graduates said on-the-job training was the most important part of the program.
87 percent said the combination of classroom learning and on-the-job training was most important.

“The SKY FAME program is a model for both students and employers,” shared SKYCTC Provost Dr. James B. McCaslin. “Students have the opportunity to earn a degree that could earn them more than $90,000 five years after graduation, and employers have the opportunity to grow their own maintenance technicians.  It’s a win-win for all involved.”

SKY FAME students attend class two days per week and apply what they’ve learned three days per week at their job site. They are paid for their work by the sponsoring company, most are hired by the sponsoring company, and many employers cover the cost of tuition. Students graduate with nearly 2,000 hours of work experience for the two-year program.

“On the days that I went to school, I learned the foundation and then I’d apply it on the job. So, it went hand-in-hand,” Brown said. “I could actually catch on faster because I learned it, and then as quickly as sometimes the next day, I was using what I learned.” 

Mr. Brown and two brothers were raised in Kentucky by a single mom in poverty. After his 15-year-old brother died in a car crash, Mr. Brown dropped out of school to work in fast food to help his mom with the bills. He spent his 20s driving a commercial truck, which had long hours and modest pay. For his 32nd birthday, he got his GED diploma. He landed a job at Logan Aluminum, operating machinery on the factory floor.

His employer paid for him to attend the SKY FAME program three years ago at SKYCTC’s Franklin-Simpson Center. After earning an associate degree in advanced manufacturing, he now earns $32 an hour as an advanced manufacturing technician, checking machinery for problems and making repairs. If you drank a can of soda or beer lately, there is a big chance Mr. Brown fixed the machine that cut the aluminum you held in your hand.

The program is employer-led and employers of all sizes are part of the 11 KY FAME chapters. Students must apply with the sponsoring company and meet all college-ready benchmarks. 

According to the Opportunity America/Brookings report: “The message for employers, educators and policymakers: earn-and-learn training works, and the nation should redouble its efforts to take the model to scale. Among the main reasons it is successful: on-the-job experience gives meaning to classroom instruction and helps students get jobs after graduation.”

The SKY FAME chapter is always open to additional manufacturing partners. For information on how to be part of SKY FAME, contact Kelcie Richart at or visit