As Kansas tries to increase the national profile of its state universities and cope with state budget cuts, higher education leaders said they want to know how to provide Kansas businesses with better prepared workers.
Several Wichita business leaders and legislators met Tuesday with representatives from the Kansas Board of Regents at the Wichita Area Technical College campus at Jabara Airport to discuss goals and challenges of higher education.
"We're not here to talk or whine about money," said Jill Docking, chairwoman of the nine-member regents board. "We're here to talk about how we can pull ourselves out of the recession."
With the number of Kansans retiring expected to rise in the next decades and the number of graduates declining, she said educators and business leaders have to partner to efficiently produce more skilled workers.
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The meeting was a first step in seeking input from outside of academia. The Board of Regents, which oversees the public higher education institutions in Kansas, is holding about a dozen similar discussions statewide.
So far, business leaders have asked the university system to be more "nimble" in adjusting to the needs of the business community, Docking said.
"You can't take three years to develop a program," said Docking, who represents Wichita. "But by definition, systems aren't very nimble."
Businesses have also asked colleges to make training programs more accessible for development of current workers, said board president Reggie Robinson.
"The economy is requiring us to deliver something that isn't a credential" only, he said.
But even as the college system turns to encouraging technical skills, leaders said students still need a solid liberal arts education. WATC requires core classes in communication and other professional skills.
Engineers often lack writing or presentation skills, one aircraft industry representative said.
The regents board is seeking further input from community leaders in surveys, and Docking said that in the next few months, a committee will be formed to explore how educators can work closer with area employers.
George Fahnestock, owner of Fahnestock Heating and Air Conditioning, said groups looking into improving education need funding. Colleges face a $100 million cut in state aid this year.
When he served on the state's Technical Education Authority board, he said, funding was an obstacle in developing programs.
Fahnestock said community and education leaders need to find ways to "have enough money to make these changes."