Trustees from the three Southwest Kansas community colleges gathered Wednesday night in Liberal to focus on partnership efforts and regional education needs, but their discussion also turned to the value, authority and effectiveness of the Kansas Technical Education Authority.
Hosted at Seward County Community College/Area Technical School, the gathering included elected leaders of SCCC/ATS, Dodge City and Garden City Community Colleges, as well as Donna Shank, Liberal, of the Kansas Board of Regents; Sally Cauble, Liberal, of the Kansas State Board of Education; Kansas Senator Steve Morris, R-Hugoton; and Linda Fund, Topeka, executive director of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees.
The group shared views and details on cooperative programs to train Southwest Kansas health care workers, services provided in partnership to assist the region’s small businesses, and ways to deal with reduced revenues through collaboration.
STUDENT SUPPORT & SUCCESS
Trustees also heard from two SCCC/ATS students, who explained how community college support helped them succeed.
“When I arrived in Southwest Kansas, I was completely lost,” said Carlos Souza, a native of Brazil. ‘”I came to play tennis and study business, but it was hard in the beginning because I didn’t understand English.” He added that life in Liberal required major adjustments after growing up in a different culture and a city of three million.
“For me, the people have made the difference,” Sosa said. “My coach and every teacher gave me the support I needed, and the small size of the college helped me achieve my goals.” Sosa now has a 3.92 grade point average while studying finance and economics, belongs to Students in Free Enterprise and the school’s Phi Theta Kappa academic honor society chapter, leads the tennis team and writes a newspaper column about economics in the student newspaper, The Crusader.
“Today,” Sosa said, “I feel secure about my future.”
Edgar Rosales, originally from Mexico, said he first didn’t plan to attend college, but was encouraged by his teachers and now has a GPA of 3.8 as he studies engineering, with an emphasis on environmental issues.
“My parents had only a sixth grade education,” Rosales explained, “and I want to thank everyone for pushing me to get my education.” A U.S. resident since 2002, he is a presidential scholar taking classes via polycom distance learning technology in Liberal, with classmates from DCCC and GCCC.
“Now that I’m in college,” Rosales told the group, “it is all up to me.”
The experiences shared by Rosales and Sosa paralleled a series of success stories presented by Todd Carter, SCCC/ATS, about the Bridges to the Future Program, which operates in partnership with Kansas State University. The program provides tuition, fees, mentoring, research jobs and other assistance to talented students in biomedical or bio-behavioral sciences.
Funded by the National Institutes of Health, Bridges has helped 50 students from GCCC, DCCC and SCCC/ATS transfer to KSU and participate in significant research projects as they advance toward bachelor’s degrees.
During the discussion on partnership endeavors, Dr. Duane Dunn, SCCC/ATS president, explained that students in Liberal and Dodge City are taking courses in their home communities from GCCC’s Paramedic Program, while those based at DCCC and GCCC are able to enroll in Respiratory Therapy from SCCC/ATS.
Dr. Carol Ballantyne, GCCC president, noted that the GCCC-based Kansas Small Business Development Center is providing services through a three-person staff based on the Garden City campus, a new outreach center at the Liberal college with a one-person staff, and an office in Greensburg that has played a major role in that community’s dramatic tornado recovery.
Dr. Richard Burke, DCCC president, told the group that tight economic times have tempered the competitiveness between the three institutions.
As the state has ratcheted down support for community colleges, due to revenue shortfalls, Burke noted that all three institutions have logged large increases in enrollment as Southwest Kansans turn to them for economically vital education and career learning.
“When you start to see the kind of cuts we’re seeing,” Shank echoed, “there’s no way that’s not going to impact the mission of higher education.”
“When times are hard,” she told Morris, “that’s when you need higher education more than ever.”
TIGHT TIMES & TECHNICAL EDUCATION AUTHORITY
Morris, saying he wished he had brighter news, noted that the state will get the second of two annual fiscal estimates today, and he anticipates Kansas revenues may be short by as much as $200 million.
“I appreciate the collaboration that you’ve been talking about this evening, and I appreciate the way you’re doing more with less,” he said. “That’s good public policy.” He added that much of the state’s economic challenge comes from difficulties in the aviation industry, and said budget committee members should hear from students like Rosales, Souza Sosa and those in the Bridges Program.
Cauble also noted cooperation between higher education and the K-12 school network her board oversees. In addition, she asked whether the Kansas Technical Education Authority is helping higher education, or “has run its course.”
The KTEA, created by legislation and operates under the Kansas State Board of Regents, exercises extensive authority over postsecondary technical education funding and curriculum across the state, including programs provided by community colleges. Though the authority is scheduled to sunset in 2014, the board’s recommendations now take effect automatically, if not denied by the Regents within 45 days.
Marvin Chance, SCCC/ATS trustee, noted that while the KTEA was created to advocate for the state’s area technical schools, over 80 percent of postsecondary education in Kansas is actually provided by the 19 community colleges.
Ballantyne questioned whether the KTEA’s standards have real-world relevance in Southwest Kansas, and Burke asked whether the board’s emphasis on technical programs and the aircraft industry has short-changed college transfer programs, and programs in the arts and sciences.
“The authority was created to streamline technical curriculum and make sure that the technical colleges are doing the right thing,” Morris said, “but you all are providing the lion’s share of technical education.”
Cauble raised the idea that as the state makes deeper cuts in education funding, it could consider whether to retain financial support for the KTEA.
During the evening, the three boards also touched on other topics, ranging from past and possible future efforts in shared marketing and advertising, to the need to encourage greater minority student participation by boosting minority representation among faculty, staff, administration and board makeup.