The top people at Wichita Area Technical College say they’ve got some good news, not only for the college, but for everybody in Wichita.
They recently contacted 90 percent of their graduates from the fall semester. And 97 percent of that 90 percent found jobs, most of them locally.
Nearly all got those jobs either in Wichita or within 30 miles of the city, college officials said.
What that means, WATC president Tony Kinkel said, is that employers are hiring more WATC graduates, creating jobs for people who live here and who pay taxes.
WATC, which had 3,960 students enrolled in the fall, offers certification or two-year degrees in aviation, manufacturing, health care and architectural and interior design at its three campuses in Wichita.
Unofficially, the latest enrollment number for the spring semester shows a 19 percent increase in the number of students at WATC from the 2012 spring semester, Kinkel said. The head count of students taking classes increased from spring to spring by 459 students, unofficially, Kinkel said.
This follows the fall 2012 semester in which WATC increased its autumn to autumn enrollment by 541 students, a 25 percent increase.
“We are now without doubt the fastest growing college in Kansas,” Kinkel said.
In contrast, according to numbers released by the Kansas Board of Regents, WSU, with 14,898 students for the fall semester, lost 202 students in the head count from the previous fall. Butler Community College’s enrollment declined by 110 students in the same period.
Three key developments led to this increase, Kinkel said. Wichitans should be happy about all of it, he said, because it’s not just about WATC’s success.
One reason the enrollment grew so much, he said, is that he and John Allison, superintendent of the Wichita schools, have forged an unusually cooperative relationship that led to hundreds of Wichita high school students taking classes at WATC while still attending Wichita high schools.
“One year ago we had only 89 high school students taking classes here at WATC,” Kinkel said. “We now have 500.”
He said Allison worked hard with him to make it easier for high school students to take WATC courses.
A second reason was even more key, he said. At the urging of Gov. Sam Brownback, the state one year ago allocated $8.3 million to help pay tuition and fees for high school students to take technical courses at Kansas technical and community colleges with tech programs. Brownback called it his Career and Technical Education initiative.
Kinkel said he did not have numbers available Thursday showing how much of that money ended up helping bring 500 Wichita high school students to WATC.
The third reason the WATC increase happened, Kinkel said, is that Sedgwick County has the room to train all these new students. Its three campuses include the National Center for Aviation Training, 4004 N. Webb Road. Kinkel said this is now so important to creating jobs and a bigger tax base in Wichita that he wanted to talk about “political courage.”
“I’m a former politician myself,” he said. “But there is not a lot of political courage in the country right now. We could not be creating all these hundreds of extra graduates were it not for the center, and the center was created by several Sedgwick County commissioners, at the height of the recession.”
Kinkel said he wasn’t here when that happened, but has been told the debate over building it helped cost at least one county commissioner his job. Ben Sciortino, who voted with a majority of commissioners to raise the mill levy 2.5 mills to help pay for the center, and an expansion of the Sedgwick County Jail, lost his bid for re-election in 2006.
“All the politicians who come out to the center now are happy to stand together and have their picture taken there,” Kinkel said.
Though the state and national economy are still weak from the 2008 recession, Kinkel said, the overall effect of WATC’s growth is that hundreds more people are being trained for the kinds of manufacturing and technical jobs where there are labor shortages.
This will become even more important in the near future, he said. He said the average age of manufacturing workers in the U.S. is 52.
Many will soon retire, creating more job openings.