A new state program that pays the tuition for high school students to take technical training has helped push up the number of students at Wichita Area Technical College by 25 percent in the official yearly Kansas Board of Regents census.
According to the census report, released last week, WATC had 2,652 full and part-time students, an increase of 541 from the previous September.
It’s a contrast to the stagnant growth in total enrollment at the state’s universities, community and technical colleges this year. Overall, the entire Board of Regents system grew by 458 students to 188,694, with 151,701 from Kansas and 36,993 from other states or countries.
Sheree Utash, WATC’s vice president for academic affairs, said the growth comes from several sources.
The biggest is Gov. Sam Brownback’s program, approved by the Legislature this spring, to encourage students to enroll in technical school classes while still in high school. The cost of tuition for those classes is free to the students.
Utash said that 455 students from Maize, Maize South, Valley Center and Derby high schools, plus a few from the Wichita schools, are taking classes. The students take classes that lead to certifications in areas such as nursing or aircraft construction.
In other efforts, Utash, said the school is also seeing renewed interest from high school graduates in sheet-metal certification.
Spirit AeroSystems and Cessna Aircraft have said they would interview any student who graduates with a sheet-metal certificate, Utash said.
“That’s new this year,” she said. “We suspended the program for 24 months because there were no openings.”
Other efforts, she said, include a new robotics maintenance program and a program that helps licensed practical nurses become registered nurses, taught in conjunction with Pratt Community College. There’s also been a successful push to increase enrollment in the school’s airframe and power plant maintenance program, officials said.