“Since 2012, I would say we’ve saved about $500,000 for our students and their families just by not having to pay that tuition. It’s getting those kids a step ahead.”

A graduate of McPherson High School might be only a few classes away from an associate’s degree, thanks to the amount of college credit offered each year.

McPherson High School’s career and technical education department, led by Assistant Principal Bryce McFarland, offers credits in nearly every industry. McFarland gave a presentation on the program to McPherson city commissioners at their Monday meeting.

“Senate Bill 155 came through in 2012. More or less, it stated that the state would help pay tuition for high school students who want to take college classes in career and technical education before they graduate,” McFarland said. “Since 2012, I would say we’ve saved about $500,000 for our students and their families just by not having to pay that tuition. It’s getting those kids a step ahead.”

Today, USD 418’s CTE program offers courses in a number of industries, including automotive, business, construction, drafting, fire science, medicine and welding. Students can also earn certifications recognized by employers in each of these industries.

“The majority of these certifications are high-demand. When we started this, we looked specifically for certifications that are in need in the state of Kansas,” McFarland said. “We need people to fill these jobs, and these certifications are what our students will need to fill them.”

The high school can offer a wide variety of options to students through a partnership with Hutchinson Community College.

“We met with HCC in 2012 and looked at what we currently offered and how they matched up with courses at the college,” McFarland said. “Some courses can be taught by our instructors, while for others, the students will go over the HCC McPherson center. We can meet both high school competencies as well as college competencies for some entry-level classes.”

The newest program, fire science, partners with the McPherson Fire Department so students might learn from and eventually be employed by an area organization.

“Five students went through our fire science program so far. They took two hours a day Monday through Thursday to go out to the McPherson HCC center and the McPherson Fire Department came out and instructed the class,” McFarland said. “It’s gone really well and those students are excited about continuing that program.”

Another group in the community may also make a difference for students hoping to enter the manufacturing industry, without a financial burden.

“We just started the manufacturing skills machining academy this year. Viega approached HCC and asked to start an apprenticeship class for high school students to take a cluster of machining classes,” McFarland explained. “Once they’re in that class, they can start working at Viega and work toward an associate’s degree in machining, plastics or a related field. Once they complete that two or three year program, Viega would pay for those classes and then hire them on full-time when they complete their degree. They’ll have a job straight out of high school and after taking a few college classes.”

So far, the CTE program is working well enough that students are looking for move courses for advancement.

“In our welding program, we currently offer four courses,” McFarland said. “Starting next year, we’re looking at bringing an HCC instructor to come in and teach the kids who are ready to take more classes than we currently offer. Then, they can get their level 1 certification in welding.”

Aside from specific certifications, McPherson High School now requires students to achieve at least the silver level of WorkKeys, and industry recognized certificate of job readiness.

“We’ve seen a lot of kids get those certificates. We test them as juniors so we have an extra year to get them there and it doesn’t hold kids back from walking across that stage,” McFarland said. “We’ve seen a lot of growth and have a lot of good things happening.”