One of the city’s newest residents toured Manhattan Area Technical College Friday morning. But this was more than a routine citizen drop-by, since the new resident-tourist was Sen. Jerry Moran.
The senator, who relocated to Manhattan from Hays over the summer, had given a commencement address at MATC’s 2010 ceremony, but had never before toured the facility.
“I want to do everything I can to gain an understanding of our new hometown,” he said.
MATC president Rob Edleston showed Moran several areas of recent development at the college. Those included a welding area that sprung from a partnership with Caterpillar, along with expanded laboratories and the dental hygiene program.
The college has also begun an athletics program, and Edleston said MATC is undertaking a study to examine how to become a community college.
Moran called the Caterpillar partnership, which is designed to address a lack of welders in the community, “encouraging.” MATC’s initial welding class since the agreement included 20 students being hired by Caterpillar. Edleston said the hope is to continue the partnership including a potential training site in Wamego.
Moran said one of the faults of No Child Left Behind is the de-emphasis of vocational training at schools and an increased focus on tests. “I think we over-emphasize university education,” he said. “As parents, as teachers and as counselors, we do.”
“Our job is also no adult left behind,” Edleston added. He said 68 percent of jobs need more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree, an area he called “middle skills jobs.”
“What people don’t realize is a lot of these middle skills pay more than jobs with bachelor’s degrees,” Edleston said. He said there is a lack of recognition of the value of these type of workers, which is at a critical level.
MATC is also providing training for high-skill jobs. Edleston said the laboratory additions are in response to Manhattan being named the location of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), a biosafety level four facility.
Edleston said MATC wanted to evaluate how it fits in context of the new developments. He said the goal is to provide hands-on training for practicing scientists.
“Your typical microbiologist, chemist and so on often allows the techs to do most of the work, and the scientist analyzes the results,” he said.
Moran said MATC’s dental hygiene program fulfills a state need. “We have a dental hygienist shortage in rural Kansas,” he said. Edleston called dental hygiene “one of our gems.”
Moran said some Kansas communities have lost business due to the lack of trained workforce for certain jobs. “It’s an aging population that doesn’t have young folks trained in our communities, especially rural communities,” he said.
Edleston said the college has a 93 percent job placement rate, and almost 100 percent of the students stay in Kansas. He said the biggest export in Kansas is students graduating from four-year universities.
Moran said he believes technical education is something that changes the nature of the state for the younger residents.
“What’s happening at this technical college is reversing the trend of educating kids and sending them out of Kansas to find jobs,” he said.