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James Blanton has turned a pink slip into an opportunity to earn a degree. Blanton will graduate in May from Big Sandy Community and Technical College with an Associate in Science degree and has already been accepted to Morehead State University, where he plans on pursuing a degree in either radiology or education.

James Blantons story isnt unique, and he hopes his outcome is commonplace for himself and the nearly 6,000 miners in eastern Kentucky out of work to get retrained and go back to work.

Blanton, 40, was laid off last year after working 10 years for Alpha Natural Resources in Harlan County. He worked 10 or more hours a day, while commuting nearly five hours roundtrip.

I loved the work I was doing, and I was able to take care of my family, he said. When I was laid off, I felt like my world turned upside-down.

Blanton attended Prestonsburg Community College nearly 20 years ago but didnt take college seriously.

He added: If I had known then what I know now, I would have taken it a lot more seriously.

That has changed this time around.

Hell graduate in May with an Associate in Science degree from Big Sandy Community and Technical College and has been accepted to Morehead State University, where he hopes to major in radiology or education.

Im just in the process, so I have some time to decide, he added.

Blanton said a college degree with allow him to compete for jobs here and elsewhere, if needed.

Its not dependent upon regulations or markets, he continued. My education is mine, and I can use it to build a future for me and my family.

The choice of returning to college wasnt easy. I was a little intimidated, he said. Most of the folks in my class were half my age.

However, its been a smooth transition for Blanton. Hes excelling in classes, especially mathematics, which proved to be an obstacle at first.

Thats where he met Professor Toufic Saad. He brings it down to our level and gives us so many resources to be successful, Blanton said.

Saad said students like Blanton inspire him each day.

When you work with students who are terrified of a subject and you give them a firm hold on it, thats very rewarding, said Saad. We believe in our students and their success is a top priority.

To learn more about the colleges Associate Degrees and transfer options, contact Dr. Patsy Jackson at (606) 889-4711 or email