McPherson High School students are receiving free college-level credits and certifications this year due to a partnership with Hutchinson Community College.

McPherson High School students are receiving free college-level credits and certifications this year due to a partnership with Hutchinson Community College.

The cooperation begun after the Kansas Legislature passed the Career and Technical Education Act in May. The act took effect July 1. Through the act, the state pays tuition of high school upperclassmen who take qualified technical education courses through Kansas technical and community colleges. A $1,000 incentive also is offered to school districts for each student who graduates with an industry-recognized credential in a high-need occupation.

Bryce McFarland, McPherson High School Career and Technical Education director and assistant principal, has been working this year to get the word out and expand the opportunities of the partnership.

“It’s a pretty neat process the state has set up,” McFarland said. “It’s something we’re really trying to work for and set up with Hutchinson Community College to give the kids every opportunity to take advantage of.”

When the act was passed this summer, Kansas school districts didn’t have much time to act. McPherson met with Hutchinson Community College to compare curriculum and determine if dual credit could be arranged for any high school classes already in place. They determined this was possible in four areas — automotive, health science, construction and drafting.

Now several months into the spring semester, more than 74 students have or are receiving college credit, although some may be taking courses in more than one of those areas.

McFarland was not able to compare these numbers from previous years, as the high school did not keep track of all students who were enrolling in college courses on their own. He did estimate, however, the partnership has significantly increased the number of students earning college credit.

“I think it’s very beneficial for the students to take these college credit courses because it’s saving them money in the long run,” McFarland said. “They’re going to be able to acquire skills that could open doors for them in the future to help with the economy.”

Those open doors also come while the students receive industry-recognized certificates in two of the four curriculum areas. About two dozen students could receive certifications by the end of the school year.

The district is looking to include more certificate options for the coming years, including welding and machining. They also are looking into business and communications certifications. McFarland said the district is trying to find as many certifications as they can for the students.

“That way when they walk out our door, they’re just that further along as far as having the opportunities to be successful and finding a job. This would maybe get them selected out of a group for a position because they have some college credit hours on (their resume) or the certification that goes with it,” he said.

This has the potential to help not only the local students, but the local economy, as students graduate with skills that are in demand. A Kansas Department of Labor survey showed individuals who earn these credentials earn an average of 20 percent more than high school educated workers.

“That way they’re able to go into the community and help local businesses maintain success,” McFarland said. “I think as an owner of a company, if a local high school was providing quality students skilled in the areas I need for my business, I think that would be great. It’s keeping our local economy on top of the game.”

The program will continue to grow as more students graduate with certificates, thus allowing the district to receive more monetary incentives.

“That's the other reason, not only for the kids, but it’s also going to help our programs get better and make sure we’re staying up on things, and they’re ready for the work force.”

Chris Walline, McPherson High School vocational teacher, said the dual credit courses allow the students to learn the basics earlier.

Senior Aaron Rush, who is planning on getting a job in automotive restoration and mechanics, said the program has given him a head start already. The dual credit also gave him a drive to work harder, as the grades will be posted on his high school and college transcript.

“It’s just saying (to a potential employer), ‘This is what I’ve learned so far’ but it also gives me a position of familiarity to where I can say, ‘I have this, but I’m also in a position to learn more.’”

Although students like Rush have been reaping the benefits of these courses, McFarland said one of the hardest aspects of this new endeavor is getting the word out. Questions can be relayed to McFarland or the counselor’s office.

“I think the biggest thing is just making sure the student and their parents are aware these opportunities are out there,” McFarland said.

Contact Jenae Pauls at and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel