Ashley Gaeddert is a senior at Newton High School who, like hundreds of others across the state, is getting a head start on a career in medicine thanks to a new state training program.
Gaeddert has participated in six, five-hour clinical sessions while training for her Certified Nurse’s Aide certification at local long-term care centers. With that experience under her belt, she said, she plans to attend nursing school after graduation with a leg up in the field thanks to the training she received through Hutchinson Community College while still a student at Newton High.
“It’s a good field to go into,” Gaeddert said. “At first I was kind of doubtful, but I found I really enjoy it and it’s not as hard as anything I thought it would be. It’s a good opportunity to have for students.”
Gaeddert will receive her CNA certification as a result of Gov. Sam Brownback’s Career Technical Education Initiative, generally referred to as CTE.
Kansas educators say they are using the program to streamline connections between employers in search of skilled labor and high school students interested in getting the certifications needed for jobs ranging from automotive repair to health care.
While some of Brownback’s initiatives since taking office in 2011 remain controversial and with still uncertain results, CTE appears to have been a quick and unqualified success that has drawn ample praise from those familiar with it.
The initiative was approved by the Legislature in May 2012, providing $8.75 million in free student tuition for career technical education in approved fields at Kansas community colleges and technical schools. It also provided $1.5 million in incentives to participating Kansas high schools and reimbursement for transportation costs.
To qualify for the program, the training must be for occupations that require an industry credential and pay at least 70 percent of the average annual wage, which is $41,240, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The jobs also must require at least a high school diploma and have an overall Kansas Department of Labor Demand Score between 10 and 30 based on vacancies, short- and long-term job projections, and wage data.
Brownback said the program has helped bridge a gap that existed between high school students who were looking for paths forward and the state’s community colleges and technical schools.
“We said we have this great system here and we have a lot of juniors and seniors in high school that aren’t motivated in what they’re doing,” Brownback said. “So we said, ‘Let’s mix the two together, let technical schools have access to these students and the state will pay for it.’ It just exploded.”
In fiscal 2014, the program paid more than $8.3 million in tuition, allowing 5,280 high school students to do post-secondary coursework at 26 schools. That amounted to 29,923 credit hours of education, according to the Kansas Board of Regents.
‘A leg up’
“It’s really giving students a leg up into the industry because they have that industry-recognized credential,” said Blake Flanders, vice president of workforce development at the Regents. “I think this is providing a really great first step into a career pathway.”
At Neosho County Community College, the initiative has benefited the school and the rural region it serves, according to school officials.
With a main campus in Chanute and a campus in Ottawa, Neosho is the 10th largest community college in the state. According to Jim Genandt, vice president for student learning, the initiative has contributed to a boost in enrollment.
“There is more interest from the high schools and from their students to get these programs,” he said. “Our enrollment increased 40 to 50 percent this year because of what the governor’s doing in relation to training high school kids. There’s a significant impact, no doubt about it.”
According to the Regents, 225 students are using the program at Neosho County Community College. In fiscal 2014, that translates to 1,378 credit hours and $390,424 in funding.
CTE also is providing workers for the Kansas medical industry. More than 1,600 high school juniors or seniors participated in Certified Nurse’s Aide licensure training in 2013, according to Regents numbers, and 578 graduated with CNA certifications funded by the initiative.
For students interested in health care, a CNA certificate provides entry to the industry and the opportunity for more training and advancement.
“It really is a gateway,“ said Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer. “For some people college is a hard step, but this gets them a degree and they can build on that.”
CNA programs at the community colleges provide the first “stackable” certification required for training in several medical professions, including nursing.
Courtesy Neosho County Community College
The next step in training is an associate nurse degree. Neosho County Community College has the state’s second largest associate nurse program, and officials there said many of the enrollees in that program have advanced from CTE.
Officials at Hutchinson Community College, which has the largest associate nurse program, said they are seeing the same thing.
Gaeddert, the Newton High student, is just one example.
“I was told that I should take it to work my way up into the field I want to be in,” she said. “It really has been something that has let me see how I like the job and now work my way up. It was a good opportunity for me.”
Gaeddert said she plans to go to Hutchinson Community College for her associate nurse degree now that she is familiar with the faculty and program there from her CNA coursework at Newton High.
Genandt, at Neosho County Community College, said CTE has encouraged students who might not have otherwise to consider the next level of training even as they are working on their CNA certification.
And for students who need work right away, CTE has provided an opportunity to connect employers with the trained workers they need.
“We have workers from other companies as our part-time teachers,” Genandt said. “So they might notice a particular kid and they can go tell their boss, ‘If we’re hiring for that position, I know a kid we need to go after.’ So it becomes an informal job recruitment process.”
Adding an instructor
Genandt said Neosho County Community College has added a full-time CNA instructor because of CTE. There were two before the program along with some part-time staff.
“For a rural community college like us, adding a full-time position is a significant commitment of resources that are hard to come by these days,” Genandt said. “We definitely see the payoff in terms of the support from the schools in getting us the students and then, in turn, the students doing a good job in getting through the program.”
Genandt said local health care providers had approached the school about expanding technical programs because their workforces were aging and replacements were needed.
“The rural employers in the area came to us and said we have a workforce that’s going to retire in a few years and if we don’t get some workers that are willing to work around here, our businesses are going to go out of business,” Genandt said. “In rural parts of the state, this program is so huge in developing the workforce.”
Other states noticing
Flanders, at the Regents, said Kansas was one of the first states to adopt a program such as CTE but that other states, including Nebraska, are beginning to consider similar programs.
“We’ve been on the cutting edge here with this policy,” Flanders said. “What we know is in order to be successful in the Kansas economy, an individual needs some kind of post-secondary education beyond high school, and we think these credentials are a good start.”
“I’ve worked in other states in my career and they look at us and see what we’re doing in workforce education and training, and they’re jealous,” Genandt said.
Education officials said the program is a good way to encourage students who might not be ready for a four-year college to look beyond a high school education.
“It’s really empowering to our students and their parents to offer these college credits while they’re in high school,” said Jay Scott, assistant director of career and technical education at the Kansas Department of Education. “By offering these college credit options in high school, they get to look at a different educational path other than ‘I’m just going to college.’”
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