WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — On Friday, Kansas celebrated a program that has provided free job training to high school students statewide for the past 10 years.
In 2012, the governor and legislature signed Senate Bill 155, now known as Excel in CTE. It provides free vocational technical education (CTE) at Kansas technical and community colleges for high school juniors and seniors.
Over the next 10 years, the program grew from approximately 8,000 high school students a year to more than 13,000. WSU Tech in Wichita says 50% of its students are high school students.
The school hosted Excel’s 10th Anniversary Celebration at CTE on Friday morning at the National Center for Aviation Training hangar, 4004 N. Webb Road.
“Excel at CTE has been a game changer for WSU Tech, there’s no doubt about it,” said Sheree Utahsh, president of WSU Tech. “It’s a game changer for all the high schools we work with.”
Students who have participated in the program say it is life changing.
“I first heard about Excel at CTE the summer after my freshman year of high school, and I was like, ‘Oh, can I take all these classes for free?'” Kylie LeValley, a senior at Wichita North High. “Like it makes sense but also like…it’s crazy.”
LeValley participates in the Patient Care Technician Certification Program at WSU Tech. He said he will graduate from WSU Tech the day before he graduates from high school and will have 76 college credits. She said she puts her a year and a half ahead of other students her age when she enters the nursing program at Wichita State University.
“My life has really been changed,” she said.
Eli Chiles graduated from the program last year. He works a full-time welder, already has a college degree, and teaches part-time at WSU Tech. He said he didn’t even finish high school for a whole year.
“Going through the program, it was a huge life changer,” she said. “Not only did I get the education I needed, but the instructors were so helpful too, really instilling what it means to be a valued member of society and someone who will succeed.”
Chiles said if someone had told him two years ago that this was where he was going to be in life, he would have said they were crazy. But he said the word about Excel in CTE is spreading.
“I wouldn’t be here without it. It was amazing,” she said. “Teaching not only about the industry but also job skills, life skills. They really want to see you succeed, through college and into the workforce.
He said it’s one of the reasons he now teaches welding.
“It just changed my life so much that I just wanted to help get through that process and change other people’s lives as well,” Chiles said.
Macie Schwind graduated from WSU Tech with 70 hours of college credit. Although she is a freshman at Wichita State University, she is a junior working towards a bachelor’s degree in biology and prospective dental school.
He also spoke at the Excel 10th anniversary celebration at CTE.
“Over the next 10 years, (the program) will triple,” Schwind said. “I don’t think it’s just going to be this size. I think there’s just room for improvement and I can’t wait to see what it does for other students like me.
The WSU Tech president spoke with the three students before the ceremony. He said everyone has been talking about moving into a career and not having student loan debt.
“Student loan debt is the largest debt in this country, higher than credit card debt, and they don’t have it because it changed their lives,” Utah said. “So it’s not only helped them financially, but it’s also given them a path and a career that they can then build on.”
She said she is grateful to the Kansas politicians who initiated the program and continue to fund Excel in CTE.
“What an incredible impact the governor and the state legislature have had in changing the lives of young people and giving them opportunities,” Utahsh said.
He said Senate Bill 155 was a landmark piece of legislation.
“It’s changing the trajectory of economic life, talent pipelines and the workforce, putting people into the workforce earlier than they would have been before,” Utahsh said.
WSU Tech’s highest tuition areas include applied technology, health sciences, aviation, and manufacturing.
Utah said Excel at CTE has enabled taxpaying families in Sedgwick County more than $46 million and put young people straight into the workforce. She said it is also breaking the cycles of poverty.
“It’s lifting families up. It is uplifting communities and making higher education accessible to all young people and helping them aspire to things they would never know,” she said.
According to Utah, 92 percent of WSU Tech students reside in South Central Kansas.
“We don’t have that emigration of talent,” he said. “This is incredibly important when we look at the needs of all kinds of industries and what their needs and future of work are going to be.”
Contact the community and technical colleges directly to find courses suitable for Excel in CTE. The Kansas Board of Regents has a partial list of schools on its website.
WSU Tech calls its program for high school students JumpStart. Its Excel courses in CTE are free, but general education courses cost $80 per credit hour. Click here to find out more.