Wichita State, WATC discussing possible expanded affiliation or merger

The Wichita Area Technical College formally announced the launch of Shocker Pathway, a partnership between the WATC and Wichita State University that creates a joint associate of arts degree. (April 20, 2015)
The Wichita Area Technical College formally announced the launch of Shocker Pathway, a partnership between the WATC and Wichita State University that creates a joint associate of arts degree. (April 20, 2015) File photo

Officials with Wichita State University and Wichita Area Technical College are exploring options for merging the two institutions, saying it could benefit area students and employers.

“We believe that the two of us working together … would make a better impact than either of us could separately,” WSU president John Bardo said Tuesday.

“In terms of this transition in higher education, there are going to be a lot of experiments around the U.S., and we’re going to be one of them.”

The Sedgwick County Technical Education and Training Authority, the WATC’s governing board, announced in July that it planned to hire a consultant to explore “the potential of a deeper affiliation between WATC and WSU.” Since then, Bardo said, both sides have been meeting regularly and are excited by the possibilities of a potential merger.

Specifics aren’t yet clear, but one variation would be for the WATC to become a college within WSU, like the Honors College or the College of Health Professions, Bardo said.

“That’s an option,” he said. “Everything from, ‘Gosh, this is not going to work’ to that.”

Several things would have to fall into place for a merger to happen, including approval by the Kansas Legislature and the Board of Regents, which governs the state universities. A joint committee is “working through all the details about what it would take to make this work,” Bardo said.

The committee plans to present an initial report to the Board of Regents by December or January. After that, a detailed study and analysis would take about a year, Bardo said. The target date for an expanded affiliation or merger is July 2017.

“That’s our target date that we’re working with now,” Bardo said, “just because if you don’t set a target date, these things can go on forever.”

An expanded, formal affiliation with WSU could allow the WATC to offer more services to vocational students and expanded training to the local business community, officials said.

In February, the WATC teamed with Wichita State to offer Shocker Pathway, a program that allows students to earn a two-year associate of arts degree from WSU. Students begin their studies at the WATC, earning up to 50 credits for transfer to WSU. Upon completion of an additional 15 credit hours at WSU, students earn an associate of arts degree from Wichita State.

That program was the impetus for further talks about alliances, said Sheree Utash, the WATC’s interim president.

“In many ways, we’re talking about expanding that Shocker Pathway into different areas,” Utash said. “We’re focusing our discussion around designing what education would look like in the future and how we could work together to … align certificates and degrees from GED to Ph.D.”

Officials said being part of WSU would not mean students paying four-year university prices for two-year technical or associate degrees.

Utash said the WATC remains committed to its role as an open-access, affordable option for post-secondary education. Bardo agreed.

“If their tuition structure changed, it may mean this thing can’t work,” Bardo said. “If we can’t keep a low-cost option for people to be able to get the education and training they need, then this isn’t worthwhile for the people of greater Wichita.”

Utash said she’s encouraged by early talks and optimistic that “it really could be the right time” for an expanded affiliation with WSU or even a merger.

“We have two really great institutions that serve unique student populations, but our missions are really similar in focus,” she said. “So how can we look at our differences and understand our individual histories and then strategically align ourselves for the future, to become even stronger?”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle