Students can take free college courses

News editor

When Butler Community College planned a certified nursing assistant class at Marion High School, Butler of the Flint Hills Director Amy Kjellin was worried the cost of the class might prevent students from taking it.

The five-credit-hour class would normally cost $483 plus the cost of a textbook, Kjellin said. But in a stroke of good fortune, circumstances allowed high school students to take the class for only $18 plus the cost of a textbook.

The difference was Senate Bill 155, a new Kansas law by which the state will pay the tuition for high school students to take college-level career and technical education classes. Those classes don’t have to be through high school — they can include night classes or online classes.

“It’s a pretty amazing opportunity for students interested in career and technical education,” Kjellin said. “It’s an opportunity for students to get college credit.”

And the classes that qualify for free tuition are quite varied: agriculture, automotive, business, health, criminal justice, are just a few of the qualifying subject areas. Some of the classes, particularly business classes, also count toward bachelor’s degrees, Kjellin said.

The biggest difficulty of qualifying for the free tuition is meeting qualifying placement scores, Kjellin said. That means the classes are best suited for juniors and seniors. Kjellin also cautions students to be certain they are ready for an extra time commitment before taking college classes in addition to high school classes. If students take on too much and do poorly, those classes will count toward their college grade point average while applying for financial aid.

The classes available to take in person in Marion County are fairly limited, Kjellin said. The only qualifying classes offered in Marion are the CNA class and, starting in the spring semester, a computer class. Most qualifying classes are online-only in the county. That doesn’t seem like much of a limitation in the eyes of students, though, Kjellin said. There is more interest in online classes than night classes, because students can do online classes during their regular school day.

Marion High School juniors Kelli Hess and Amanda Stuchlik were two of the students who saved $465 on the CNA class.

“I want to go into the medical field, either a pediatrician or nurse, so I thought that would be a good start,” Stuchlik said.

Similarly, Hess wants to become a registered nurse, so she would have to take the class in college anyway.

“We’re only halfway through, and I already feel like I know a lot, like I could have a job,” Hess said.

The students begin shadowing CNAs on Thursday at Parkside Home in Hillsboro, she said. Hess plans to apply for a CNA job as soon as she has her certification, so when she gets to college, she can show employers that she already has experience.

Most CNA jobs pay better than the minimum-wage jobs available to many college students, with pay normally starting at $10 or more per hour. Nursing homes also need CNAs at all hours, so a student with a busy class schedule can work nights or weekends.

MHS Principal Tod Gordon said another program benefiting from SB 155 is a welding program in Hillsboro, a cooperative effort of MHS, Hillsboro High School, Hillsboro Industries, and Hutchinson Community College. Students who complete that program have immediate job prospects, as well as 14 college credit hours if they pursue more training.

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