Team recommends higher ed commission accredit WATC

Wichita Area Technical College received good news on Wednesday - the initial accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission that WATC has been working toward for five years is just one step away.

A six-member site visit team that has been conducting interviews at WATC for the past two days told college leaders that they will recommend that the school be accredited. The accreditation would be valid for five years, said Shirley Antes, vice president or external affairs at the college.

"This is a very big day, a great accomplishment," said Jim Walters, president of the WATC board and senior vice president for human resources at Cessna Aircraft. "The audit team that was here was very thorough. It was a rigorous process that left no rock unturned. This accreditation will put us on a par with all the other educational institutions in the state, and it helps students achieve a two-year and a four-year degree. It's a huge step forward."

Antes has headed up the team working for accreditation for more than five years. She said there has been strong progress in the past two years.

"We got a lot of accolades from the team and a few suggestions for things to work on. I've been in Kansas technical education since 1985 and this is something I've dreamed about."

The Higher Learning Commission is part of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the regional organization that provides accreditation for all of the state's two- and four-year colleges.

"This is a huge day. We got everything we were working for. I couldn't be happier," said WATC president Pete Gustaf.

WATC has had been accredited by the Council of Occupational Education for many years. This recommendation, which must be approved by the commission before it is official, represents the first full accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission.

"This means we can begin working to develop transfer equivalencies with all the accredited colleges and universities in the state. We will start that process, moving course by course for general education, technical certificate and applied science degrees," said Sheree Utash, director of academic affairs for WATC.

Utash, who came to WATC this year from Cowley College, said it was her fourth experience with a site team visit.

"These team members were very genuine, good to deal with," she said. "This was a good visit."