Politics & Government

Educators, economic-development groups urge WSU-WATC affiliation

Campus of Wichita State University
Campus of Wichita State University File photo

Economic development groups and education officials asked Kansas lawmakers to pass a measure that would affiliate Wichita Area Technical College with Wichita State University.

SB 174 would bring the technical college “under the umbrella” of the university by becoming the WSU Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology, said Sheree Utash, the college’s president.

“We will continue to provide open access for students,” Utash told members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Monday. “We will continue to have affordable tuition, like we do today.”

“This seems like the next way to take this partnership to a greater level,” she added.

It wouldn’t be a full merger between the two schools, which has been pushed in recent years.

WSU president John Bardo said an affiliation would allow the two schools to better craft programs to “accommodate the needs of the workforce.”

“It gets us at the same table at the same time with our faculties collaborating before the degrees are done so that the student benefits,” Bardo said. “It allows joint planning at a much higher level than we do now.”

Kansas Board of Regents president and CEO Blake Flanders said the bill was modeled after a “successful” affiliation between Washburn University and Washburn Institute of Technology. Administration of that technical college shifted from the Topeka school district to Washburn University in 2008.

“We encourage the two institutions to further leverage their resources to expand access and opportunity to Kansas students,” Flanders said.

Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Gary Plummer said the affiliation would strengthen both institutions as regional assets.

“We believe this will help with workforce development and lead to growth in the south-central Kansas region,” Plummer said.

Greater Wichita Partnership president Jeff Fluhr said it would contribute to the region’s educated workforce.

“The affiliation of WSU and WATC is an important step to … ensuring our competitiveness,” he said.

Lyndon Wells chairs the technical college’s governing board, which would become an industry advisory board under the proposal. He said an affiliation would allow the college to remain flexible.

“The affiliation discussion, having morphed from the merger discussion, really strengthens the opportunity for us to remain more independent from the traditional bureaucracy … of higher education program development,” he said.

A bill last year would have merged WATC and WSU. Bardo said Monday an affiliation would be easier to accomplish than a merger and that WATC’s tuition, support services and revenue sources would remain the same.

“This is a much cleaner approach,” he said.

There were no opponents of the legislation at the Monday hearing.

The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools would also need to approve the affiliation.

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar