Progress in education in Northern Kentucky perhaps is best exemplified by the region’s namesake institution of higher learning.

Northern Kentucky University has grown from a regional commuter school to a campus with an enrollment of nearly 16,000, with 550 full-time faculty members that offers 67 bachelor’s degrees, six associate degrees and 23 graduate programs.

In the past five years alone, NKU has added the $37 million, 144,000-square-foot student union building; the $60 million, 9,400-seat Bank of Kentucky Center for basketball, concerts and other events; and the $52.8 million, 110,000-square-foot Griffin Hall, home to the university’s unique, innovative College of Informatics.

“For those who have been operating companies here for 15 or 20 years and have an idea of what Northern Kentucky University used to be, they are continually surprised and amazed at what NKU is now, and most importantly the quality of the students forthcoming from NKU,” says Dan Tobergte, president and CEO of the region’s Tri-County Economic Development Corporation (Tri-ED) and holder of bachelor’s and master’s degrees from NKU, as well as a law degree from its Salmon P. Chase College of Law.

“For outsiders coming in who’ve never heard of NKU, we’re able to impress them quite quickly with a trip to Griffin Hall, to the student union, to the Bank of Kentucky Center, to the science center,” Tobergte says.

Even on the playing field, NKU has stepped up in class, moving this academic year to NCAA Division I athletics, the highest level of competition. NKU’s teams acquitted themselves well in their first season of membership in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

“There was a time when people liked NKU and thought you could get a good education there, but thought maybe it wasn’t on par with the big institutions,” says Steve Stevens, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “Today, I don’t think anybody would say that.”

The region’s other higher-education options include Thomas More College, a Catholic liberal arts school in Crestview Hills, and since 2002, Gateway Community and Technical College, part of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

Gateway, with campuses in Boone County, Covington/Park Hills and Edgewood, offers two-year associate degrees and has become a model for the future by working with business and industry to tailor instruction, such as manufacturing, to their needs.

“The importance of Gateway cannot be overstated,” Stevens says.

“It means so much to our community now because it has evolved to meet the needs of the business community.”

That kind of forward thinking also helped the Kenton County School District with the establishment of its Academies of Innovation and Technology, offering concentrations in such areas as biomedical sciences, engineering, high-performance production technology, informatics, media arts and sustainable energy technology in an effort to align fields of study with anticipated job growth.

Students at Dixie Heights, Scott and Simon Kenton high schools enrolled in the academies may spend portions of their days at other campuses.

Several small, independent school districts in the region continue to perform well. The Beechwood Independent (Fort Mitchell), Fort Thomas Independent and Walton-Verona Independent districts ranked second, third and sixth, respectively, in the fall in the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) test scores.

The region has many well-regarded parochial schools feeding into secondary schools like all-male Covington Catholic and all-female Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills, as well as Bishop Brossart in Alexandria, Holy Cross in Latonia, Newport Central Catholic, St. Henry in Erlanger and Villa Madonna in Villa Hills. In addition, Covington Latin’s accelerated preparatory program has been an acclaimed pipeline of college-ready minds.

Non-Catholic private schools include Calvary Christian near Taylor Mill and Heritage Academy in Florence.