Building a future workforce on a budget – western Kansas students take college courses for free

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GARDEN CITY, Kan. (KSNW) –  Imagine getting your college education for a fraction of the cost. Well, a group of western Kansas schools has joined forces to create a brighter future for their students.

Bringing real-world to the classroom. Garden City Community College is giving area students a head start on their career, but the twist? It’s free of charge.

Students from ten high schools in the area are getting hands-on experience in tech careers. Garden City High School is the largest district in western Kansas and also the largest district partnering with the college.

“Studies show that students are more successful after high school and are more likely to finish a degree if they get some amount of college credit while they are in a high school program,” said Jenny Hands, Garden City High School Career and Technical Education Coordinator.

Garden City High School audits the courses offered to students, meaning mentors look at what courses would count toward a degree and guide students down which path might be best for them. “Instead of looking at what options might be easy to offer, we’re looking at what options are students are interested in and what options are going to help them the most towards a degree,” said Hands.

Classes such as welding, carpentry, manicuring, and a newer addition, automotive tech, are all offered tuition-free and fee-free.

“Students are not as familiar with the tools as students may have been in the past. That is the bridge we are trying to gap is getting those students more comfortable with tools and knowing the basics like wiper blade and oil changes,” said Bret Haire, Garden City Community College Auto-Tech Instructor. “So high school students, their first thing they’re gonna do is they’re gonna go through our safety program, learn how to use the tools. Kinda learn the way that things work.”

The dual credit classes are offered to sophomores thru seniors, although seniors make up the majority. The classes give students that may not want to pursue a four-year degree a chance to earn credentials and build skills.

“Our goal is to get these students exposed to the industry so they are better equipped when they get to us,” said Ryan Grubbs, Garden City Community College Auto-Tech Instructor. “There’s a really big shortage in this workforce, and so now we’re having our students leave here, right out of the program, making premium dollars.”

For local school districts, they say it’s vital in growing the region’s future workforce.

“These classes help prepare our students to be career-ready no matter what they choose to do after high school,” said Hands. “It’s a no-brainer if you are a student. Why not take it now? Why not take it while you still have the support of teachers here? You get your feet wet with a college course and the rigor of that, yet we are still here to support you in that course and make sure you are successful.”

“That’s what we’re all about here is just creating professionals for the workforce,” said Haire. “If we raise the bar, then the finish line will also be higher than it was before.”

The course tuitions are funded by the state of Kansas through a program called Excel in CTE or Career and Technical Education. As for fees, the college is picking up those expenses.

There are multiple other courses offered that are also tuition-free but do have some fees. Those programs include courses in Animal Science, Agriculture, Allied Health, and Public Safety.

For more information on the programs either contact your high school counselor or email Dawn Tucker at dawn.tucker@gcccks.edu.

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