- Associated Press - Monday, October 2, 2017

The Wichita Eagle, Sept. 29

Developing skilled workers is crucial for Kansas economy

A staggering number popped out of Jonathan Shorman’s story on the number of open jobs in Kansas.

Four out of every 10 Spirit AeroSystems employees will be eligible for retirement within five years, according to the company. That’s roughly 4,000 jobs.

Unless something changes, there won’t be enough people qualified to fill them.

Finding qualified workers is an increasing problem, one that’s forcing government officials, economic developers and education and business leaders to find solutions that, so far, haven’t been easy. After all, how can companies be recruited to Kansas if their skilled jobs can’t be filled?

Part of the problem is a drain in the state’s workforce. The number of Kansas workers has gone down by almost 3 percent over the last eight years when the national average has gone up.

Kansas has to become better at attracting and keeping talent.

Then there are Kansas students and their paths to a career. Too many have enrolled at four-year colleges, even though they are headed for careers in which a bachelor’s degree isn’t needed.

Then there are those who complete a four-year degree in a field such as engineering but leave our state for work elsewhere.

A breakdown of vacant jobs from the Kansas Department of Labor shows 63 percent need only a high school diploma or no diploma. Eighteen percent require a college degree.

Kansas is not alone. A member of the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission spoke to the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday and said his state, too, can’t fill aerospace technical jobs created even only by attrition.

But knowing other states have the same problem doesn’t solve the problem. It only makes it tougher to compete for skilled workers.

State officials have many tools to consider. An apprentice tax credit would give companies time to train workers without experience. Relocation incentives could be used to lure qualified workers to Kansas for a job.

Already, the state has taken some steps. In the summer, the Kansas Department of Education announced a pilot program in seven school districts that focuses on identifying courses of study for children, especially those interested in careers that required technical training instead of a four-year degree.

Education commissioner Randy Watson said the redesign of the state’s public school system, which will begin in 2018, is based on feedback from businesses that recognized enough students weren’t enrolling in technical and vocational schools, or schools that offer two-year degrees.

“We’re not producing enough students with the skill set that allows most of them to seek middle-class employment,” Watson said in August.

Technical colleges offer a route to well-paying jobs and are usually much more inexpensive. At Wichita Area Technical College, the Wichita Promise scholarship program pays tuition for students studying for careers in high-demand fields.

Wichita leaders - City Hall, Greater Wichita Partnership and others - saw the workforce problem approaching and have been proactive. They recognize the danger failing to meet the demand could have.

Increasing the skilled workforce is part of improving a Kansas economy that boasts a low unemployment rate but high numbers of vacant skilled jobs. Government, business and skilled workers all benefit from an increase in the labor force that currently has 3.2 jobs open for every 100. Coming together for a fix is essential as Kansas continues to work to ensure its economic future.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Oct. 1

Training real journalists

After the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 1988 ruling in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier - which maintained that censoring student journalism was acceptable - Susan Massy says she started to see her students “do more self-censorship in fear of what might happen.” Massy is a journalism adviser at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School, and she recalls her disappointment in the ruling: “I have never felt so defeated.” But she didn’t allow this feeling to prevent her from fighting for press freedom for Kansas students.

Thanks to the work of lawmakers, education advocates, students and high school teachers like Massy, Kansas became one of the few states in the U.S. to pass legislation that provides robust protections for student journalists 25 years ago. Gov. Joan Finney signed the Kansas Student Publications Act in 1992, which ensured that “The liberty of the press in student publications shall be protected. School employees may regulate the number, length, frequency, distribution and format of student publications. Material shall not be suppressed solely because it involves political or controversial subject matter.” The act also states that students “are responsible for determining the news, opinion, and advertising content of such publications.”

Eric Thomas is the executive director of the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, and he recently spoke about the Student Publications Act to a crowd of students, teachers and administrators representing more than 70 schools: “This legislation protects you, the student journalists of Kansas.” But it also protects the rest of us. Kansans should be proud to live in a state that recognizes the indispensable role of vigorous journalism at every level - particularly at a time when our national discourse is becoming more Balkanized, false information is spreading like a disease online and faith in the media is collapsing.

According to the most recent data from Gallup, only 27 percent of Americans say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers. Some people may argue that the media deserves its unpopularity, but this is an attitude that wedges a diverse array of institutions - many of which do tremendous, scrupulous work every day - into the same box of condemnation. To appreciate the difference between real journalism and the fake news that fills websites like Russia Today and Alex Jones’s Infowars, all you need to do is read a story that was published in Pittsburg High School’s Booster Redux in April.

When a group of Pittsburg students discovered that their incoming principal (Amy Robertson) had lied about her credentials, they exposed her. Unified School District 250 had already decided to hire Robertson (at $93,000 per year), so the students’ investigative work was all that prevented a verifiable fraud from becoming their new principal. Connor Balthazor is a senior who was on the team that published the story about Robertson, and he explains how Superintendent Destry Brown reacted to their discoveries: “He was hoping we would write a nice story. Three times he assured us there was nothing to see. Three times he was wrong.”

The U.S. is facing an epistemological crisis - as the media becomes more diffuse and politicized, it’s essential that we train the next generation of truth tellers as rigorously and realistically as we can. By allowing students to produce real journalism, Kansas has contributed to this project in a tangible and sustainable way.


Lawrence Journal-World, Oct. 2

KU enrollment data impressive

The University of Kansas should be applauded for its recently released enrollment numbers that showed not only an increase in students but also record-setting data on student achievement, diversity, retention and graduation.

Last week, the university announced its enrollment had grown for the fourth consecutive year to the highest level in six years.

The Kansas Board of Regents reported that KU has 28,447 students enrolled across all campuses, an increase of 46 students from last September. KU’s enrollment growth came exclusively at the KU Medical Center, whose main campus is in Kansas City, Kan. Enrollment in Lawrence and at the Edwards campus in Johnson County were comparable to 2016.

It’s also noteworthy that KU’s freshman class has the highest average high school GPA and the second-highest ACT score of any in KU history. And the freshmen are the most diverse in KU history. Minority students now comprise 20.6 percent of the student population, and out-of-state students make up 38.4 percent of enrolled students. Both the diversity and out-of-state numbers also are all-time highs for KU.

The university also reported record-setting retention and graduate rates: The one-year retention rate for KU’s fall 2016 cohort is 83 percent, the highest on record. Additionally, 27 percent of the 2013 cohort has graduated in four years, while 62 percent of the 2012 cohort has graduated in five years. Those figures, according to KU, are both all-time highs.

“We’re pleased to have grown our enrollment for the fourth straight year and to have welcomed the most academically prepared and diverse freshman class in history,” KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said. “To grow as we have, and to do so with such talented freshmen, is a clear sign that high-achieving students want to attend a top research university that offers nationally ranked programs and transformative opportunities.”

KU bucked a trend. Statewide, enrollment at Regents colleges and universities declined slightly. Enrollment at Kansas State fell 4.1 percent, while Emporia State and Pittsburg State also saw declines. Community college enrollment fell 2 percent.

University leaders said the improving enrollment, retention and graduation numbers are a direct result of new recruiting and retention efforts. Last year, KU implemented new admission standards, expanded its recruitment efforts outside of Kansas and revamped financial aid packages.

The “data confirm that, from the way we identify and recruit students to the way we support them once they arrive, we are continuing to make good progress,” said Neeli Bendapudi, provost and executive vice chancellor, said.

It’s impressive to grow enrollment and even more impressive to do so while simultaneously increasing student achievement and diversifying the student body. Hats off to KU for its recruitment efforts and the enrollment trends those efforts have produced.

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