It’s great to see local officials working together on plans to beef up vocational and technical education opportunities in Lawrence.
Many local residents have seen a need to expand those opportunities for some time, but their efforts never really took off. Now, it appears that a strong coalition of business and education interests in the city may be the key to meaningful progress.
The goal is jobs. Lawrence Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Williams recently told members of the new Lawrence-Douglas County Joint Economic Development Council that more vocational training opportunities are needed to help attract new employers — and jobs — to the community. To that end, local officials are actively recruiting an area community college to locate a branch campus in Lawrence.
Johnson County Community College currently teaches a few courses in the building that formerly housed Centennial School, and, according to school Superintendent Rick Doll, various factors have aligned to make this a perfect time to forge an expanded relationship with JCCC or some other community college. Doll said he had met with both Chamber of Commerce and Kansas University officials and gave KU and Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little special credit for helping move the vo-tech effort forward.
Both tradition and an obscure Kansas law have given KU a long-standing monopoly on higher education in Lawrence. That made it difficult for community colleges to offer programs here, Doll said, but that situation is changing. KU, he said, has indicated it has no objections to community colleges entering the Lawrence market as long as they don’t offer “general education” classes that would compete with KU’s offerings. Fort Hays State University is one of the most innovative schools in Kansas, and local officials should include officials of that school in any conversation.
Another factor cited by Doll was a new state initiative aimed at expanding access to career and technical education. High school students now can attend career-training programs at a post-secondary school tuition-free, and school districts receive $1,000 for each student who receives a technical credential for high-need occupations such as mechanic, electrician, carpenter or computer specialist.
Doll envisioned partnering with a community college that would provide faculty for classes taught at a local facility. New facilities for those programs might be part of the school bond issue that will go to voters in April, he said. Unfortunately, building new seems to be the usual Lawrence solution rather than trying to reuse existing facilities and saving taxpayer dollars.
There may be other ways to provide a facility without adding to the local tax burden, but the overriding goal to provide more vo-tech opportunities in Lawrence is positive and long overdue. Many great careers don’t require a college degree. Providing additional training for some of those careers will benefit both local students and the community as a whole.