College class of 2025

Trends in higher education

Written by Karen Long

Imagine a world where students pull a simulated 3D heart into the air to dissect it, where they dismantle a virtual engine or practice warding off cyberattacks in a controlled environment. All of these scenarios and many more are happening right now in our city, or coming soon to a school near you.

Dr. Sheree Utash, president of WSU Tech, is also the only college president invited to sit on the national American Workforce Policy Advisory Board. She says that one of the main initiatives of the board is facilitating the integration of technology into all industries across the nation, a continuing trend that’s reshaping how we think about higher education.

“By 2025, 75 percent of jobs will require some type of post-secondary credential,” says Dr. Utash. “And we also don’t know what about 50 percent of those jobs will be today.”

Careers of the future

A look around the Wichita area offers some hints as to what kinds of unexpected careers might be waiting for today’s high school juniors when they graduate from college in 2025. For starters WSU Tech is launching a new program in Healthcare Simulation Technology, one of only two such programs in the nation.

“Every hospital and college across the country has these very high-profile mannequins that you can program to do different things, such as have a heart attack, develop a blood clot or birth a baby,” says Dr. Utash. That level of sophistication requires special software — and special technicians. “It takes someone who has a healthcare background and a bit of IT to create those simulations and programming.”

Virtual reality and 3D reality are also empowering WSU Tech students to do things such as troubleshoot a virtual engine, simulate a runner’s heart or bring architectural visions alive in three dimensions. The school has also launched a new program in alternative fuels and maintenance, creating skill sets for students to work with autonomous vehicles, electric cars, hybrids and hydrogen-powered batteries.

In recent years a few area schools have added cybersecurity programs, including Friends University. Deb Stockman, vice president of enrollment management, says they offer two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s in this field. Students practice in a specialized lab, responding to simulated real-time attacks as though they were on the internet or the dark web.

“Cybersecurity is a super-hot area and a big need for our country,” says Stockman. “We’re pretty excited about that, and the lab that we have is very amazing. It is truly one of three in the nation in a university setting that can do everything needed to prepare for the most sophisticated cyberattacks.”

Innovations in STEM

Health sciences, IT, cybersecurity and aerospace are just a few STEM industries that will be contributing to the explosion of new career categories by 2025.

As an urban public research university, Wichita State is a leader in exploration, and this year continues the expansion of the Innovation Campus according to provost Rick Muma. ATLAS, the Automated Technology Laboratory for Advanced Structures, is being added to the National Institute for Aviation Research, made possible through a government grant, and a new crash-test facility is planned at 18th Street and Oliver. A hotel, residence hall and YMCA are also in the works.

All this in addition to the facilities and industry partners already on campus including Airbus, Spirit, FirePoint and the Law Enforcement Training Center. To help incoming, career-minded, Gen Z freshmen get the most out of this concentration of research, industry and applied learning, Muma says the university is combining admissions with career guidance to create a “front door” introduction to the Innovation Campus.

“So when a student comes to the university, they will also immediately learn about the different job opportunities that are available, and we can offer the potential of actually getting a job on campus or in one of our employment partners’ offices.”

The “parallel ladder” of education and career

Seventy-five percent of all jobs in 2025 will require some type of post-secondary credential says Dr. Utash. With that in mind, Wichita colleges and universities, both 2-year and 4-year, are developing new processes and programs.

“There are multiple ways to a career pathway today,” says Dr. Utash. Evolving our collective mindset to consider education and career simultaneously as a ”parallel ladder” is another focus of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board.

Things like stackable certificates allow students to jump into employment within the first year, while pursuing their studies as they work, paving the way to building a college resume and job experience at the same time. And more and more high school seniors are graduating with some college credit — or even with a dual high school diploma and associate’s degree like the 70 seniors who graduated this spring from the Early College Academies at Butler Community College.

Butler President Kimberly Krull says these students are saving $14,000 over a 2-year time frame. There are Early College Academies with concentrations in health sciences, automotive technology, entrepreneurship, cybersecurity, early childhood education, engineering and more. All of which “really prepare those students to move on, saving them time and especially saving them money towards their college career,” says Dr. Krull.

This fall Butler will launch a new academy in culinary arts, partnering with Augusta High School and Opaa! Food Management. Two years from now the first class of students will graduate with their high school diploma plus an associate’s in culinary arts.

Recruiting students of the future

If two Wichita schools have their way, a larger chunk of the area’s college graduates will be moving in from out of state and putting down roots in our community.

A few years ago WSU decided to “artificially grow the state of Kansas” by extending in-state tuition to metro areas in neighboring states. The Shocker City initiative started with the counties comprising Kansas City, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Dallas-Fort Worth. The program has been so successful says Muma, that they’re expanding into the San Antonio, Austin, St. Louis and Denver metro areas.

Before the program, total students from the initial set of metro areas numbered around 200. “We’ve grown that to over 800 students,” says Muma. “That’s significant. That’s 500 to 600 more students coming from those areas into Wichita.”

Another banner recruiting program was started last year at WSU Tech. Wichita Promise Move kicked off with a grant from the Wichita Community Foundation, paying tuition and moving expenses for students seeking training in specific, high-demand aerospace positions.

“When we started the program,” Dr. Utash explains, “we thought 75 percent from in-state and 25 percent out-of-state would be a win. Surprisingly enough, about 82 percent of students came from outside of Kansas and 18 percent came from Kansas.” Out of 96 students, 92 completed their training successfully and were offered a position at either Spirit or Textron in sheet metal assembly or as a process mechanic.

“The students that responded, I say they’re the heroes of this deal,” says Dr. Utash, “because they really had a lot of grit to move to Wichita, and to take a chance like that.”

With the help of community partners, the program included moving students, housing them, educating them and providing them a weekly stipend for groceries and transportation explains Dr. Utash.

“Our goal was to have them live in downtown and go to school at NCAT (National Center for Aviation Training), but we wanted them to feel a part of Wichita from day one, and our goal was that they wanted to live, work and play here in Wichita. And they kinda fell in love with Wichita.”

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