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PrattTribune - Pratt, KS
  • College makes requests to area legislators

  • Three of seven legislators in service area present for luncheon.
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  • Administrators and trustees of Pratt Community College invited Kansas legislators within its service area to lunch on Tuesday and pushed an agenda supported by the Kansas Association of Community College trustees and a couple of items that are specific to PCC. Attending were Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, and Reps. Jack Thimesch, R-Cunningham, and Kyle Hoffman, R-Coldwater.
    Vocational education
    Vice presidents Kent Adams and Jim Stratford made a plea for an additional $8 million to further implement a tiered technical education funding model that recognizes that some programs are more expensive to present. One academic credit hour costs the college $92, workforce development costs $182 and nursing costs $252. They're not all funded equally by the state, but SB 143, approved in 2011 and funded with an initial $8 million, helps close the gap.
    Stratford encouraged the legislators to continue funding SB 155 that allows high school students to enroll in technical courses that count as college and high school credit, at no cost to the student. Stratford said he's as excited about this program as any during his career.
    The state gets a better-trained workforce. Students can get industry-based certification that allows them to go directly to work, or work part-time as they pursue higher education. It reduces the time students stay in college, saving them thousands of dollars, and reducing the amount of student loans that he said have reached crisis proportions. Adams explained that some students come to PCC already carrying $20,000 to $40,000 in debt, and the highest amount is $100,000.
    High schools can get $1,000 for each student who earns certification.
    High schools can offer a broader program, either by classes taught at their schools by an instructor that meets PCC's standards, through online or ITV classes or hybrid (a mixture of online and hands-on education) classes.
    Approved late in the 2012 legislative session, the program won't be fully implemented until next fall, Stratford said.
    Abrams challenged colleges to solve a couple of challenges; the first being that if you want to teach electric programs, you've got to be an electrician, to teach welding, you have to know how to weld, yet there are very few people in the state who are certified electricians or welders and also certified teachers.
    "I suggest to need to find some way to solve that problem," he said, addressing Stratford.
    The second challenge has to do with hands-on experience.
    "Eventually, if you're going to be an auto mechanic you have to get grease under your fingernails. It's hard to do that with ITV," he said.
    He suggested that the experience component requires a significant block of time, while public schools tend to think in terms of first hour, second hour, etc.
    Page 2 of 3 - Stratford agreed that working with various high schools, all with different schedules during the day and for days in session has been a challenge, but discussions are being held with superintendents with the goal of better coordination.
    Pratt High, with a block schedule "that doesn't match up with anybody in the world," has agreed to move the lunch period for affected students, so they can spend several hours at the PCC campus and get back in time for football or basketball practice.
    Online education
    Questioned by legislators about PCC's commitment to online education, Stratford explained that the college offers 88 online courses to 3,000 students and the program is growing by double digits every semester. About 90 percent of students are Kansans, but they also have a student in Afghanistan, one from Boston, Mass., who when asked "why Pratt?" said she heard about the nursing program by word of mouth, and four from Hattiesburg, Miss., attracted in the same way.
    They fly in for the required 6 weeks on campus for simulation labs and clinical experience and stay in local motels or on campus if housing is available. Stratford said the hybrid students do better than on-ground: they're older, have experience in the field, they're motivated, and they're spending their own money.
    Personal and Family Protection Act
    Community colleges system-wide are asking for exemption from a House bill introduced in 2011, but not approved by the Senate, that would require the use of metal detector wands and security personnel at each campus building entrance. The cost would be astronomical,
    PCC President William Wojciechowski said, with an estimated system-wide price tag of $5 million to $8 million.
    "I do think it will pass both houses, and I'm OK with your exemption," Hoffman said, adding, "I encourage trustees to look at it and not just opt out."
    Funding for deferred maintenance
    Colleges are asking for extension of tax credit for deferred maintenance that allows taxpayers to contribute to Kansas community or technical colleges for the purpose of deferred maintenance or the purchase of technology and receive a tax credit not to exceed 60 percent of the taxpayer's total income. PCC received approximately $380,000 in 2011.
    Also requested is the reinstatement of infrastructure loans that brought PCC more than $1 million to revitalize the Benson Education Building HVAC system, replace aging fire alarms and repair a leaky roof.
    The college still has about $1.5 million in deferred maintenance projects, Adams said.
    Freedom from restrictions
    A 1973 statute limits the ability of a community college to offer courses in counties that have public universities. Pratt has issues with the statute due to its proximity to Wichita State University and limited opportunities to expand programming into Sedgwick County.
    Page 3 of 3 - Alternative funding model for colleges
    Frank Laubhan, a local certified public accountant, encouraged the legislators to form a task force to study a new method of funding of community colleges that would not place an unfair tax burden on the 18 counties that have colleges, while 87 counties receive benefits from having a nearby college, without any expense.
    Nearly a fourth of taxes levied in Pratt County go to the college.

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