Wichita Area Technical College makes financial strides

Two years ago, Wichita Area Technical College was struggling to pay its bills.

Now, its president told Sedgwick County commissioners Wednesday, the college is poised to end the fiscal year “$1.2 million to the good,” something that would have been unthinkable before.

Commissioners heaped praise on president Tony Kinkel for turning around the college financially.

“We were at a point where we were worried about the future of WATC,” Commissioner Dave Unruh told Kinkel. “It’s a significant achievement that you have made in the last 15 months.”

The county gives WATC, once part of the Wichita school district, nearly $1 million each year. It also pays the debt service on the National Center for Aviation Research campus, which is part of the college.

The college made some tough decisions to pull itself into the black, Kinkel said.

“We had to frankly get our fiscal house in order,” he said.

The college discontinued an early retirement program that the college “inherited from the school district that quite frankly we couldn’t afford,” Kinkel said.

It also ended a longevity pay program for staff and faculty and eliminated three administrator positions.

The college worked to be more streamlined. Its enrollment is up 8 percent this spring, and the college, the largest technical school of its kind in Kansas and the ninth largest college of any kind in the state, expects to continue to grow.

About 3,400 students are taking classes at WATC, the majority of them part time, Kinkel said.

Enrollment has helped the college’s bottom line.

“I think when I arrived 15 months ago, we had some severe financial challenges,” Kinkel said in an interview after the meeting. “The college was right on the brink of not being able to pay its bills. I’m pleased to say that we’ve gotten those almost all solved.”