A coordinated network of vocational-technical schools that prepare Kansas students for specific jobs would serve both the students and the state.
In the two years since the state's higher education system was united under the Kansas Board of Regents, much attention has been focused on state universities and community colleges.
It's good that regents now are taking a look at vocational-technical schools and trying to see how they can better serve the state.
The 16 vo-tech schools in Kansas appear to be a motley mixture. Some are linked to community colleges while others are operated by local school districts. Some offer post-secondary degrees while others serve mostly students who have not yet graduated from high school. Many of the schools say they have lists of students waiting for admission, but there appears to be little coordination among the schools.
A large research university like Kansas University is an important cog in the state's economic development picture. The research done at such universities and the students they turn out are vital to businesses operating throughout the state.
But employees to carry out the often-technical work of these firms also are a vital component, and that's where vo-tech schools can serve an important role.
It's easy to see why vo-tech schools have evolved as they have in Kansas. They were developed by local community initiatives to provide training for local students, often in trades such as automotive or electrical technology. In some cases, the programs they offered were somehow linked to local businesses that had a need for workers with specific training.
But if these schools are truly going to provide maximum benefit to the state and their students, more coordination and planning is needed. Even more than university students, vo-tech students go to schools to gain skills that prepare them for specific often well-paying jobs. When they get out of school, the state should try to make sure they are prepared for jobs that are available in Kansas. The aircraft industry is an example cited by one regents member as a field in which the state should concentrate its training efforts.
Being able to train vo-tech students for specific Kansas jobs serves a couple of missions. It provides the kind of well-trained work force that attracts high quality businesses and industries to the state. And it keeps highly skilled workers in the state where both they and the businesses they work for can contribute to the Kansas economy.
It's not that the state's 16 vocational-technical schools aren't doing a good job. The demand for their classes indicates that they are. But they could do more. For the benefit of students, businesses and the state's economy, the board of regents should work to take these schools to the next level.