WSU Tech & The Evolution of Higher Education
Learn how programs at WSU and WSU Tech can meet immediate industry needs, while also helping students meet future needs, whatever form they may take.
MEETING PRESENT & FUTURE NEEDS
Industry requires educated workers. But not all education is equal. Some companies require post-graduate degrees, while others require four-year degrees. Some require two-year certificates and still others require only a few weeks of specific training.
Thanks to the 2018 affiliation between Wichita State University and the Wichita Area Technical College, now WSU Tech, one educational ecosystem expands across the entire spectrum — from GED to PhD.
"That is an educational continuum that this city and this region has never had before," says Sheree Utash, president of WSU Tech and vice president of workforce development for WSU. "So it’s a huge outcome of the affiliation I think. And there’s just so many more things that can come from this."
The continuum has clearly spoken to both industry and students. When Utash first took over in 2015 as president of the Wichita Area Technical School, the school was serving only 700 people. Today, as WSU Tech, it serves more than 9,000.
"It was a very sleepy, very small college," Utash says. "So what we have really done — and this has all been done by a lot of very, very good people that work here — is reinvent ourselves."
Rather than just a vocational college, Utash says WSU Tech sees itself as a microcosm of Wichita’s workforce, answering to the needs of industry and students alike.
So what we have really done — and this has all been done by a lot of very, very good people that work here — is reinvent ourselves.Sheree Utash
As a microcosm of the workforce, WSU and WSU Tech together can meet immediate industry needs through shorter programs, while also preparing the next generation workforce to meet the future needs, whatever form they may take.
Through innovation, swift responses to industry and a concrete but flexible vision of the future, WSU and WSU Tech could evolve to become a true model for what higher education should look like.
UP-SKILLING & RE-SKILLING
One important aspect of the two-year programs offered at WSU Tech is the ability to quickly up-skill and re-skill Wichita’s workforce to meet an immediate industry need.
"Technology is driving new things," Utash says. "It doesn’t mean that robotics are going to replace people. It means that people have to have a different skill set in order to be relevant in the workplace."
Utash cites the introduction of composite materials in aircraft manufacturing as an example. Previously, sheet metal was all workers had to deal with. But with new technology, skills had to evolve.
WSU Tech has become adept at up-skilling and re-skilling at a rapid rate, relying on industry needs to create new programs that ensure students are able to perform with the latest technology.
"We work with industry very closely in all areas, aviation, manufacturing, healthcare, IT, skilled trades," Utash says. "We listen, and we’re just fortunate that our MO is to be reactive and make changes very quickly. And we’re pretty fortunate in the fact that we have a staff of faculty and administration that gets that. … They say they have change fatigue, so I say I’m doing a good job."
Recently, WSU Tech proved its swift reaction time by offering free tuition to workers laid off as a result of the grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max. School leaders hope the free up-skilling or re-skilling will help workers find a new job in the Wichita market so they’re not driven elsewhere.
This idea of up-skilling and re-skilling also exists in the world of four-year and postgraduate degrees. Dr. Jay Golden, president of Wichita State University, says all degree programs should prepare students to be successful in a rapidly changing world.
"The types of critical thinking and the types of education we provide to the students have to be not just for the jobs of today but for the jobs of tomorrow," he says.
Golden says that while WSU can help students develop the thinking skills needed to up-skill or re-skill themselves throughout their careers, the university itself is a big, slow-moving ship compared with the swift nature of WSU Tech.
The types of critical thinking and the types of education we provide to the students have to be not just for the jobs of today but for the jobs of tomorrow.Jay Golden
"Because of accreditation issues, because of legacy issues at all higher-ed schools, [it takes] a longer time to be very responsive to near-term needs," Golden says. "WSU Tech does it. … they can develop those programs just like that."
Despite this separation between tech schools and four-year universities, Golden says he firmly believes there’s a lot of change in store for higher education at large. And he plans for WSU to be on the front lines of that change.
CAPITALIZING ON INNOVATION
Just as there is massive change facing higher education, there is massive opportunity for these institutions to answer the challenges of a growing, changing world.
"We’re facing some grand challenges and some big opportunities," Golden says. "Wichita State University’s going to be a leader. We’re going to take our assets and we’re going to, in our innovative spirit, create these next generation technologies through our research."
Golden says Wichita State’s Innovation Campus is primed to step outside the realm of aviation, to help solve some of the problems that face people across the world. He says this should help diversify Wichita’s regional economy.
While Wichita State as a whole continues to innovate with research, WSU Tech can continue innovating in its own ways — mostly, to ensure the new companies expanding and entering the Wichita market have a workforce there, ready to help them meet their goals.
Wichita State University’s going to be a leader. We’re going to take our assets and we’re going to, in our innovative spirit, take that and we’re going to create these next generation technologies through our research.Jay Golden
WSU Tech’s efforts in this area have become well-known, even outside the Wichita region. Utash is a member of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, established by President Trump in 2018, which provides advice to help ensure a skilled labor force able to meet the demands of industry.
On this board, Utash is joined by CEOs, government leaders and higher education leaders including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb and Tom Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"It has been a surreal experience for me, just personally," Utash says. "I have been to the White House and I have been to Camp David and so those are experiences I never dreamed that I would ever have."
The innovation power housed at Wichita State and at WSU Tech are getting Wichita noticed on the national stage.
"Wichita State University with Wichita State University Tech and everything else, is the catalyst for innovation with the companies who are here," Golden says. "There are terrific things that have happened, there are terrific things that are happening, so we can be very forceful and very deliberate in making sure that the national — and sometimes the global — media is aware of those things."
Just as UT Austin, the University of Phoenix and Stanford have contributed to their respective cities’ successes, Golden believes Wichita State and WSU Tech will do the same for Wichita.
With just five years of Innovation Campus and two years of WSU Tech affiliation, the impact is still being felt and is bound to be magnified in the near future.
"Wichita State University is going to be well-known as one of the most innovative universities in the United States," Golden says. "We’re going to tackle these issues."