Area schools are bullish about education, jobs

Education series

Story by Amy Bird

Despite economic uncertainties, universities and community and technical colleges in Wichita are optimistic about job prospects and their ability to position students for employment post-graduation: national statistics support their outlook.

According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released in March 2012, unemployment rates in 2011 were significantly lower than the national average in fields requiring an associate's degree or higher.

Wichita Area Technical College

In a time when there is nearly 9 percent unemployment, we still have job shortages  there are 600,000 manufacturing jobs that can't be filled, says Tony Kinkel, President of Wichita Area Technical College. One third of the unemployment rate right now is attributable to the mismatch between the skills people have and the skills jobs require. If (people) were to get training in the skills needed for these jobs, the unemployment rate would go down by a third.

The WATC currently offers more than 70 programs to help students prepare for the jobs that are going un-filled, including jobs in the beleaguered  but growing  aircraft industry, which is now facing increasing global competition.

They are bullish about the future of aviation, Kinkel says of the local industry buzz. And their point is, you can replicate buildings, computer systems, factories and assembly lines, but the one thing you can't replicate is talent and the preparation of the workforce and that's the advantage that Kansas has.

Kinkel says WATC is a key component to giving aviation companies the edge in Kansas and providing employment to area residents. Recently, the college was given recognition as the world leader in developing aviation curriculum by the National Association of Manufacturing. We are taking a national role and we are working very closely with Spirit, Learjet and other OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) on developing state-of-the-art curriculum that will produce the competitive workforce they need.

WATC does this by maintaining active industry relationships and partnerships created to evaluate their programs to keep them on the cutting edge and to ensure that students graduate with the skills needed to achieve employment, whether in aviation, healthcare, manufacturing or business.

We track our placement rate and 94 percent of our graduates are placed in jobs, Kinkel reveals. That is a tremendous success for taxpayer investment.

Newman University

Michael Austin, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Newman University, says Newman has recognized the disconnect between available jobs and the education needed to achieve them. Therefore, the University has established a specialized degree completion program that caters to working adults who have taken some college courses but weren't able to complete their degree.

This new degree program allows people to complete a degree of their own design, which may be in nursing, counseling, criminal justice or business studies, he says, explaining that the program will take credits from virtually all accredited colleges and universities. Students build an interdisciplinary bachelor of arts degree with two concentrations based on their coursework. Austin says, depending on their backgrounds, students may have a degree with concentrations in business and education or philosophy and social work. We use the whole buffalo, as it were. This is now our most popular program.

In fact, Austin says Newman has seen a steady increase in enrollment throughout the recession as people look to increase their options in a tight job market.

During hard economic times, students come to finish their degrees or retrain, he says. Graduates can then take advantage of career services through the University, along with the internships and practicums required by most Newman programs, including coursework in education and healthcare.

We've had very little unemployment, Austin says of Newman graduates, especially among those going into the medical field or on to doctorate programs. We have had virtually 100 percent placement in those programs.

Butler County Community College

Butler County Community College has responded to the steady growth and high projections for healthcare workers with a unique program through Rose Hill High School called The Early College of Health Sciences Academy. High school students who participate in the program attend high school in the morning and college in the afternoon, receiving dual credit for the courses they take. Although the majority of the students in the program are from Rose Hill, the program is open to all qualified students.

Marcella Aycock, Director of the Academy, says that Butler is helping introduce students to the opportunities in healthcare before they have to start making decisions about college and what they want to do as a career.

We work closely with healthcare providers to give our kids experience in the field, she says, explaining that students hear from guest speakers and have the opportunity to shadow professionals in a variety of fields. It is even possible for students to earn a Certified Nursing Assistant certificate that they can parlay into a job or use as a base for their continuing education following high school graduation. As further incentive, participants in the program who wish to get an associate's degree in nursing are automatically accepted into Butler's nursing program, which has more than 300 applicants each year for only 56 openings. The school also has an agreement with the University of Kansas that allows Butler nursing students to seamlessly achieve an associate's degree at Butler and a bachelor of science in nursing through KU without leaving the area.

In its second year, the Academy is serving as a pilot program for early college programs in other areas of study as well. An exciting development, Aycock says, is the technical education initiative recently passed by the Kansas legislature. The initiative will give high schools $1,000 for each student who graduates with a certificate in a high demand Career Technology Education (CTE) program.

In addition to the Health Sciences Academy for high school students, Butler is on trend with the expansion of its culinary arts program. This fall, students in culinary arts will attend classes in a renovated, state- of-the-art facility located in Wichita. We're working on the curriculum and development right now of a culinary arts degree, says Tiffani Price, Assistant Professor of Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts. The program will offer courses in hospitality and restaurant management, in addition to culinary courses. Although culinary classes have been offered in the past, Price says the new facility in Wichita will allow Butler to expand its course offerings in a field experiencing major growth.

There is such demand now, Price says of the popularity of food careers that are experiencing a boon brought on, in part, by increased media exposure. Consumers are demanding a higher quality of food and so we need skilled chefs in order to produce it. We've met with several hospitality industry leaders in the Wichita area and they all agree that it is time to build the Wichita market and culinary education in this region.

Friends University

Meeting industry demands was the impetus behind the new graduate program in information security and forensics at Friends University. Gisele McMinimy, Director of Communications at Friends, says the program was designed with input from industry professionals, law enforcement and military sectors to address vulnerabilities in information systems and combat potential weaknesses. It is important for companies to be able to identify threats, McMinimy says of the region's only program of this specific nature.

Whereas the graduate programs at Friends are designed for returning students with specialized career goals, McMinimy says the University's undergraduate programs are focused on helping students develop and identify career niches through a wide variety of unique programs, including bachelor programs in ballet and zoo science.

I think that part of the whole liberal arts philosophy is that the person is not only prepared for their field with a breadth of knowledge, but they also take a lot of other courses designed to make them a well- rounded person, McMinimy says. We pay a lot of attention at the university to the growth of the whole person. So we're not only focusing on the academics but we're also focusing on their overall learning with emphasis on career development and extracurricular activities.

It's not too late to enroll in fall courses. For more information about available programs, admission and enrollment, check out the following sites: | | |

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