By TISA MASON, BEN SCHEARS and ERIC BURK
FHSU, Northwest Tech and NCK Tech presidents
Fort Hays State University, North Central Kansas Technical College, and Northwest Kansas Technical College have long been beacons of opportunity and drivers of economic prosperity in rural Kansas. We, the three presidents and creators of a new institutional affiliation initiative, believe it is now more essential than ever that every Kansan must have a chance to develop their talents, skills, and interests fully.
Our affiliation initiative was created to deliver solutions for rural Kansas. These include the development of market-smart academic programs, integrated student services, and leveraging new efficiencies and optimizations that reduce unnecessary bureaucratic barriers to student success. We will also create a powerful coalition of businesses, industries, and communities focused on increasing opportunities for our students, expanding entrepreneurship, and meeting local workforce development needs.
You may ask why this affiliation and why now? Simply put, our institutions exist to serve our students and communities. This is the true north that guides all of our work. Our shared responsibility is to recognize and embrace our role in creating opportunities for rural Kansans and their communities. Today and in the days ahead, our communities face significant demographic and economic challenges, including:
•A shrinking rural population: Experts from the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State forecast a 33 percent decline in rural populations in Kansas by 2064. •An aging workforce: According to the Administration on Aging, more than one-half-million people in Kansas are now over 60. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts nearly 25 percent of the state’s population will be 60 or older by 2030.•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 percent drop in college-going students by 2029.
The economic impact of these demographic changes is unfortunately straightforward: a declining workforce means a declining rural Kansas economy.
As we work to implement our initiative, our primary focus will be to deliver better and more effective solutions for the students, businesses, and communities we serve.
For students, our efforts will focus on increasing access and creating new pathways to achieve our students’ educational goals. These include opportunities to earn a certificate, secure stackable credentials, or earn an associate, bachelor, or graduate degree.
We also will create new hands-on learning opportunities, expand career networks, and deliver integrated professional advising services that help students navigate what we expect to be an expanding range of choices and options.
For employers, the partnership will grow the talent pipeline, create more experiential learning partnerships, and allow employers to shape how those programs are developed and delivered. Employers will also benefit from expanding access to employee professional/workforce development programs and services ranging from training and consulting programs to continuing education opportunities.
This affiliation will create opportunities for employers to engage with and assess prospective employees through micro internships and “earn as you learn” programs. These programs will allow employers to recruit and train future employees who are job and work-culture-ready on day one. Our initial academic pilot programs in agriculture, nursing, and construction were selected purposefully to address critical workforce needs in rural Kansas.
This affiliation will build stronger communities by addressing our demographic and workforce challenges. Our efforts will keep our graduates local so they can contribute to the vitality of our region through the careers they build and through their many contributions to the economic, social, and civic health of our hometowns.
To turn the tide against the threats facing our rural communities, we will need your help. Join us as we work to identify new opportunities and strengthen our ties to the communities we serve.
Each of our institutions is prepared to pursue this initiative from a position of strength and at a time when the challenges we face may be proactively addressed. Our efforts will forge stronger connections between our three institutions, our students, and the communities, businesses, and industries we serve. This affiliation initiative is the right move at the right time.
Follow our strategic affiliation initiative and share your feedback and questions online at fhsu.edu/affiliation.
Cover image courtesy Pixabay