Kansas Board of Regents approves affiliation of three rural higher education institutions

By UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS

A formal affiliation betweenFort Hays State University (FHSU), North Central Kansas Technical College (NCK Tech), and Northwest Kansas Technical College (Northwest Tech) was unanimously approved at yesterday’s Kansas Board of Regents meeting. 

Rural higher education institutions have long been beacons of opportunity and drivers of economic prosperity in Kansas. However, today and in the coming years, our communities in rural Kansas face significant demographic and economic challenges, including: 

  • A decline in the number of college-bound students in rural Kansas: According to a 2018 report titled Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education, Kansas will see a 15% drop in college-going students by 2029 and a matching drop in two-year college-bound students.
  • A shrinking rural population: Experts from the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State forecast a 33% decline in rural populations in Kansas by 2064. 
  • An aging workforce: According to statistics from the Administration on Aging, more than one-half-million people in Kansas are over 60. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that nearly 25 percent of the state’s population will be 60 or older by 2030.

The economic impact of these demographic changes is, unfortunately, straightforward: a declining workforce means a declining economy.

On behalf of her two colleagues, Northwest Tech President Ben Schears and NCK Tech President Eric Burks, FHSU President Tisa Mason thanked the Kansas Board of Regents and the governing boards of the two technical colleges, stating:

Since we first began discussing this strategic opportunity, our inspiration has always been our shared commitment to what we refer to as our “true north,” serving the students, communities, and businesses of rural Kansas. Today, as we begin to move through the affiliation process, each of us is very appreciative that our three governing boards have entrusted us with the charge of aligning our efforts to delivering solutions that contribute to economic prosperity in rural western Kansas.

The three institutions have identified several academic and administrative pilots they will use as proof-of-concept platforms to test ideas and identify best practices before moving to full implementation. The first three academic pilots will focus on agriculture, construction, and nursing. The first administrative pilots will focus on admissions, marketing, advising, general education, transfer processes, and inter-institutional registrar functions. Additional administrative pilots will look at procurement and the creation of an information technology study group. 

The presidents expect several organizational changes to result from this affiliation. The two technical college presidents will report to the FHSU president under the authority of the Kansas Board of Regents. All other employees will remain with their respective institutions. The two governing bodies of the tech colleges will become primarily advisory. One change will likely include a new naming convention for the two technical colleges. NWKTC is expected to become Fort Hays State University-Northwest Tech, and NCKTC is expected to become Fort Hays State University-NCK Tech.  

Several things are not expected to change. All three presidents will continue to lead their institutions. There will be no effort aimed at closing any campus or reducing funding eligibility. They will also not seek to disrupt the core mission of any one institution, and the three presidents have no intention of moving forward in a manner that disadvantages any of the partners. Finally, each institution will retain its respective Department of Education ID and related funding structure, and individual High Learning Commission accreditations will remain in place for each institution.  

Kansas Board of Regents Chair Jon Rolph sees this initiative as a bold step forward, stating: 

The affiliation between Fort Hays State, NCK Tech, and Northwest Tech will benefit Kansas students, small businesses, and communities. The Legislature has been a great partner and helped us implement projects that leverage our system’s potential to build the talent pipeline and grow the economy. The Regents look forward to working with these institutions to advance this affiliation. 

Presidents Mason, Schears, and Burks also look forward to the next steps in the process. “Our communities need bold solutions that address the genuine challenges we face today. This affiliation will position us well to deliver for our students and communities,” said Schears. 

President Burks shared the group’s commitment to working collaboratively as the initiative begins to take shape, stating, “This initiative will soon be in the hands of the professionals at each of our institutions, those most familiar with our most essential operations who will ultimately drive the development and implementation of our final affiliation plan.” 

The next step involves presenting the affiliation plan to the Kansas Legislature within the next several weeks. Once in place, this formal affiliation will allow the parties to move beyond current collaborations and into a true strategic partnership, enabling the institutions to proceed with delivering on the affiliation’s vision and goals. 

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