Getting technical: Allen leaders make case for $12 million investment in CTE

Allen Community College administrators will ask the board of trustees to approve plans to build a new Career and Technical Education facility and maintenance shop. Faced with declining enrollment, the college must find innovative solutions to "survive and thrive," they argued.


Local News

March 8, 2024 - 3:41 PM

Allen Community College should invest $12 million in technical education programs within the next two years to be successful in a changing education landscape, administrators told the board of trustees earlier this week. 

The board will likely consider the proposal at their April 9 meeting.

Members of Allen’s President’s Council — which includes President Bruce Moses and a team of vice presidents and deans — laid out a presentation on enrollment projections, funding models and expectations over the next two years. Their conclusion is Allen should build a new facility for Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, along with a new maintenance shop and improvements to student housing. 

Kara Wheeler, vice president for academic affairs, quoted a 2022 report from the Higher Learning Commission, a national accreditor: “The innovative institutions will survive and thrive. Those that continue to look through the rearview mirror will likely be threatened by obsolescence.” 

ENROLLMENT at Allen has dropped significantly over the past couple of years, Cynthia Jacobson, vice president for student affairs, reported, citing data from the Kansas Board of Regents and Kansas Department of Education.

Enrollment has steadily dropped at public schools across Kansas. Between 2016 and 2024, Kansas schools have lost 16,867 students. Those losses are expected to accelerate, with enrollment expected to decline by another 18,203 over the next three years.

Scott Gales of Architect One, Inc. discusses design plans for a potential Career and Technical Education building at Allen Community College at a meeting in December. He estimated up to $12 million to build the CTE facility and a maintenance shop. Register file photo

Universities and community and technical colleges already are feeling the effects. Statewide, those institutions have seen post-secondary enrollment drop by 10.7% since 2018. Allen in particular has faced a drop of 21.3% during that time, with a loss of 8.9% just over the past year. In 2018, Allen reported 1,542 students; in 2023, enrollment dropped to 1,213.

“We have to change how we do things in higher education because we aren’t going to have as many high school students coming to us. We need to broaden our scope,” Jacobson said. 

Allen saw opportunities in online learning 25 years ago, she pointed out. That investment continues to pay off, as it did particularly during the pandemic. 

Over the past decade, Allen has watched a shift to technical education.

Jacobson noted the few colleges that have seen growth — albeit minor growth generally around 1% — were places that offer more technical education programs.

“Years ago, we tried CTE and it didn’t work well for us. But the pendulum swings,” Jacobson said. 

“We’ve been doing higher education for 100 years and it continues to serve us well, but we have to be nimble and move to where our students need us.”

Jacobson also noted how the economic environment can affect enrollment by gender. Although enrollment for both men and women has dropped, the difference is more significant for men. When times are tough, women are more likely to take college classes in an attempt to boost their earning power, she said. Men, however, are more likely to forgo college and head straight to the workforce.

Tonya Johnson, vice president for finance and operations, center, discusses a proposal to address facility needs during Tuesday’s board of trustees meeting. Trustees Jessica Thompson, left, and Gena Clouch are shown. Horton Hall, in back, is an older dormotory that potentially could be used for Career and Technical Education classes.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

WHEELER offered a primer on funding, outlining how the state contributes to tuition payments.