Jan 25, 2023

Barton CC studying impacts of FHSU’s affiliation with tech colleges

Posted Jan 25, 2023 8:00 PM
Barton Community College Board of Trustees (file photo)
Barton Community College Board of Trustees (file photo)

Great Bend Post

A formal affiliation between Fort Hays State University, North Central Kansas Technical College and Northwest Kansas Technical College was unanimously approved at last week’s Kansas Board of Regents meeting.

The merger will require the two technical college presidents to report to the FHSU president, and the governing bodies of the tech colleges will become primarily advisory. Both tech colleges are expected to include Fort Hays State in name changes.

The Barton Community College Board of Trustees supported the affiliation change, but Barton President Dr. Carl Heilman said there are still many questions to be answered regarding the impact on two-year colleges in the state.

"The affiliation itself is fine, but what comes after the affiliation in terms of practices and processes that get developed?" said Heilman at Tuesday's Board of Trustees meeting. It may impact the two-year sector that is not involved."

Heilman said the unknowns are the service area for the colleges and also the funding that will be provided to the technical colleges. If the tech schools are affiliated with Fort Hays State, should they have access to state funding allotted to the two-year sector? Are the students added to Fort Hays’ headcount or remain with the technical college’s headcount?

Last September, it was announced that Fort Hays State reported an 8.2% decline in enrollment from the fall of 2021 to the fall of 2022.

Barton Board of Trustees President Mike Johnson felt like the merger was a good move for the technical colleges, but wants to make sure the rest of the two-year institutions won’t be negatively impacted.

"It's very early on, and you're getting conflicting comments from the key people involved in the process," said Johnson. "They don't really have a common answer for questions that are asked. It's very early in the process, but it could have a dramatic effect across all the institutions, potentially down to athletics."

The affiliation with Fort Hays State could impact Northwest Tech’s athletic eligibility with the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference and whether or not their student-athletes are considered Fort Hays students or Northwest Tech students.

The affiliation plan will now be presented to the Kansas Legislature. 


Below is a press release from FHSU Communications last week...

A formal affiliation between Fort Hays State University, North Central Kansas Technical College and Northwest Kansas Technical College 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 titledDemographics 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.