BY ALICIA FEYERHERM
The Kansas Board of Regents recently approved a formal affiliation between Fort Hays State University, North Central Kansas Technical College (NCK Tech) and Northwest Kansas Technical College (Northwest Tech).
FHSU President Tisa Mason said this affiliation will be based on three areas: expanding opportunities for students, growing business and helping communities proposer and thrive in western Kansas.
“It’s not really about each individual institution. It’s about our collective whole making communities stronger,” Mason said at an open forum held on campus last week.
Northwest Tech President Ben Schears explained the difference between an affiliation and a merger at the forum. One of the core differences is that each institution retains its own separate accreditation and separate funding.
He said this is advantageous when it comes to federal grant applications because grants can be submitted for three separate institutions, instead of just one institution, which raises the ceiling on the kinds of grants the institutions can pursue.
“Now we can begin looking at bigger picture kinds of things and say, ‘What can we do across the region?’,” Schears said.
During a Q and A with the institution presidents, NCK Tech President Eric Burks added that each of these institutions are joining this partnership from a position of strength.
“You see schools come together often when they’re struggling and that’s not the case here,” Burk said at the forum. “We’re excited about the fact that we’re all three strong.”
With this affiliation, students can now get from a CDL or CNA certification all the way up to a doctorate under the Fort Hays State University umbrella.
Additionally, Schears mentioned the phenomenon of students moving out of Kansas and out of the region after graduation.
“This really opens up the dialogue, as three institutions working together, on how to keep students who graduate out of our programs in the region,” Schears said.
Schears said this affiliation is analogous to constructing a house and so far, only the foundation has been laid.
“It’s far from being ready to move in,” Schears said. “There’s a lot of work that has to continue from this point in time ‘till we actually have the affiliation done.”
Schears also recognized that, over time, changes will need to be made.
“We’re going to need to remodel this overtime, figure out where we need to make additions, figure out where we need to make improvements for efficiency,” Schears said. “It’s an exciting future.”
Burks emphasized the partnership is in the early stages of development and wholeheartedly welcome input.
“We want to hear all those voices and we want to try to make this something that’s going to work well for all three of our institutions,” Burks said.
The next step is to get the affiliation approved through the legislature. The bill (House Bill 2290), was introduced to the House of Appropriations last week and if it passes through both the house and senate, it will then be signed into law by the governor. Burks expects this process to take until May or June. However, even once signed into law, the affiliation is not official until the boards of each institution pass the finalized bill.
The timing of this affiliation is important as there has been a decline in college-bound students in rural Kansas and an overall shrinking of the rural population.
“We can stand around and watch western and north central Kansas diminish, or we can do something about it,” Burks said.