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Making an investment in 'hire' education

2/9/2014

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Some careers require a four-year college degree. Many others don't.

That's the message North Central Kansas Technical College is sending this month in celebration of National Career and Technical Education Month.

The technical college, with campuses in Beloit and Hays, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. And staff members said it has persevered because of its resilience and willingness to change with the times.

NCK Tech partners with Hays High School, offering several programs to high school students. But it also has built a strong relationship with Fort Hays State University, in which credits from the technical college now can transfer for students who want to pursue a four-year degree. NCK Tech also offers some virtual college classes.

"We understand that career and technical education is important," said Kenny Rigler, an instructor in technology studies at Fort Hays State University, at a luncheon Friday on NCK Tech's Hays campus. "We really appreciate the partnerships with NCK Tech."

The technical college still offers the traditional programs, such as nursing and automotive technology.

But now there is a much wider variety from which to choose, ranging from plumbing, heating and air conditioning to commercial driver's license, from underground technology to information technology.

Its pharmacy technician program is one of only two nationally accredited programs in the state. And most of the college's programs now offer the option of earning two-year associate degrees rather than just one-year certificates.

"Career and technical education is learning that works for students of all ages," NCK President Eric Burks said. "It gives them a skill to immediately go into the workforce.

"We are trying to dispel some of the past myths that a technical college is for students who can't make it in other areas," he said.

As Burks and others spoke at the luncheon, students in the construction technology program about a block away on campus were busy working on the interior of a home they are building this year.

Students in other programs at NCK Tech, whose motto is "hands-on skills, high-tech careers," also have a hand in the construction of the home, such as those in electrical technology and the plumbing, heating and air conditioning programs.

"Career and technical education is hands-on, relevant education," Burks said. "It links what they learn in the classroom into the workforce."