Kansas has generally low costs of living and a state legislature that works hard to promote the skilled labor economy. Not only that, but nearly all of the key industries in Kansas — fields such as alternative energy, aerospace, animal health and more — feature up-and-coming jobs for candidates with a trade school education.
Training at the best trade and vocational schools in Kansas can be even more valuable to students in certain areas of the state. Health care and health information technology training might go farther in the region around Kansas City, where the five largest employers include two hospital systems and a health IT firm. The state's second-largest city, Overland Park, showed more than 11 percent population growth between 2010 and 2018, suggesting a favorable job market for graduates of construction management programs.
Why is Kansas good for vocational/career schools?
Career technical education (CTE) training can offer a few advantages over a traditional bachelor's degree for Kansas students. One major upside is the difference in cost — university students paid an average of more than $8,700 for a year of study in 2018, while in-state students at community colleges and technical schools in Kansas were charged less than $3,400 in tuition and fees over the same time period.
Kansas CTE programs also tend to be much shorter than the four-year study plans that lead to a bachelor's degree. Most certificates from career and technical schools in Kansas can be earned in a year or less, and programs that lead to a career diploma or associate degree often take no more than two years of full-time study to complete.
If you're looking into Kansas CTE and vocational training, read on to learn what makes the top campus-based and online trade schools in Kansas stand out over the rest. We've also got some information about state career training initiatives a few tips on how to apply for financial aid in Kansas.
Highest-Paying and Fastest-Growing Careers
The Best Trade and Vocational Schools in Kansas
We looked at data in important categories like affordability, schedule flexibility and career success of graduates to determine the best trade and vocational schools in Kansas. Check out the list below:
One way to measure college cost, known as average net price, subtracts the average per-student amount of grant and scholarship aid from the estimated average cost of tuition, fees, housing, food, books and other necessities. Allen County Community College posted a lower average net price than all but one other school in our top ten, charging students less than $7,300 out of pocket for all essential expenses.
What vocational programs Allen offers: Students interested in agriculture at Allen can earn an Associate in Science (A.S.) degree in agribusiness or agriculture and natural resources and a certificate in livestock management. Associate degrees and certificates are also available in information technology and cybersecurity, for students hoping to work in high-tech fields after graduation.
Career success for graduates was one of the bright spots at Hutchison Community College. The central Kansas institution reported that graduates earned an annual average of $37,500 after ten years on the workforce. HutchCC graduates also held on to their jobs at one of the highest rates in the country, with more than 90 percent remaining employed for at least six years after graduation.
What vocational programs HutchCC offers: If you're hoping to study media and visual design, HutchCC has got you covered. Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees in media communication, game design and graphic and Web design are available here, as well as Associate of Arts (A.A.) degrees designed for transfer into university graphic design, media communication and journalism programs.
Founded in 1969, Barton County Community College offers the widest selection of programs among all career and technical schools in Kansas. More than 110 different training plans are available here, including over 15 career cluster study tracks and nearly 80 Kansas CTE pathways. It's also a great option for trade school students who love the thrill of college sports -- Barton athletic teams have won close to 60 national championships.
What vocational programs Barton offers: Multiple degree options are available for students hoping to work on the administrative side of the agriculture industry. Study in agricultural economics, agriculture communication, agriculture education and agricultural business management are all available at the associate degree level. Certificates are available for medical assistants, pharmacy technicians and more.
Students looking for online trade schools in Kansas should give some extra consideration to this northwestern Kansas school. Colby Community College has one of the highest percentages of distance education enrollment among all trade schools in the country, reporting that nearly 73 percent of students took at least some of their courses in the virtual classroom in 2018.
What vocational programs CCC offers: Associate degrees in pre-medical nursing, social work, criminal justice and more can be earned at CCC, as well as some less common programs like wildlife biology and equine science. Students hoping to find work in renewable energy -- one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S. — can earn one-year technical certificates in solar photovoltaic and wind technologies.
The numbers show that students who graduate from Dodge City Community College tend to find jobs and keep them. More than 92 percent of workers who graduated from DC3 reported remaining employed for at least six years after finishing their training programs, a figure strong enough to place among the top 20 schools nationwide in that category.
What vocational programs DC3 offers: Students hoping to take their careers to the sky can enroll in the flight instructor program at DC3 to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to become a commercial helicopter pilot. The two-year nursing program here has a strong clinical focus and is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
Highland Community College is the most affordable institution among our top ten career schools in Kansas, reporting an average net price of just over $7,000 for a full year of study. It also placed high in the graduate success category, with nearly 91 percent of students staying employed for six years or more after finishing their programs, and career counseling and job placement services are available for students and new graduates.
What vocational programs HCC offers: The HCC Technical Center in Atchison is home to a range of vocational programs, including HVAC and plumbing, industrial welding and precision agriculture. Another satellite center down the road in Wamego offers certificate programs in viticulture and enology for aspiring regional grape growers and winemakers.
Only one other school statewide had a better record of stable employment among its graduates than North Central Kansas Technical College, and that's not the only area where this north Kansas institution excels. It also reported the highest graduation and retention rates in the state, suggesting that the administration goes out of its way to help students stay engaged at every phase of their study plan.
What vocational programs NCK Tech offers: Five subject majors in construction are available at NCK Tech. The carpentry/cabinetmaking certificate provides hands-on training in design, drafting and on-the-job skills, and the certificate in heavy equipment operation covers the fundamentals of several large construction machines. Two separate construction certificates can be combined into an A.A.S. in building construction technology.
If you like the high-energy feel of a busy college campus, Johnson County Community College might be the right environment for you. Enrollment figures for 2018 show that more than 18,000 students attend classes at this Overland Park institution each semester, a student body more than twice as large as the second-biggest trade school in the state. On top of that, JCCC alumni earn more on average than graduates of all but one other Kansas school in our analysis.
What vocational programs JCCC offers: A wide range of computer and IT training can be taken at JCCC. A.A.S. degrees are available in Web development and digital media, computer information systems, networking and game development, as well as certificates in software development, Web technologies and more.
Known as Wichita Area Technical College until 2018, the Wichita State University Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology is one of the top online trade schools in Kansas. Its nearly 40 percent of students taking at least some of their credits by distance education is higher than the state average, and general education credits earned at WSU Tech are directly transferable into nearly a dozen online undergraduate majors offered by the WSU system.
What vocational programs WSU Tech offers: The vocational catalog here features eight A.A.S. degrees and numerous certificates in aviation manufacturing and maintenance, including programs in sheet metal assembly, composite technology and aerospace coatings and paint technology that come with the guarantee of an interview with locally-based Spirit AeroSystems after graduation.
Northwest Kansas Technical College stood out in two main student success categories, reporting the state's third-best graduation rate and retaining first-year students through to the second year of their programs at a higher rate than all but two other schools in our top ten. Most of the programs available here boast a job placement rate over 95 percent, and NWKTC placed in the 85th percentile nationally for average graduate earnings on the job market.
What vocational programs NWKTC offers: A small but diverse array of career programs are available here, such as A.A.S. or certificate plans in computer graphics technology, criminal justice and investigations, cosmetology and respiratory therapy. It's also home to the Kansas Institute of Diesel Technology, which offers three training plans in heavy-duty machinery maintenance.
How to Apply for Trade School Financial Aid in Kansas
Finding the right Kansas scholarships and other financial aid programs can go a long way toward helping you get the college-level job training you need. University students typically know to work with their financial aid advisors to find all the aid that's available to them, but students at trade and vocational schools also have access to a wide range of student aid programs.
If you're wondering how to apply for financial aid in Kansas, the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first document that should be on your checklist. A completed FAFSA is the only way to qualify for federal programs like the Pell Grant, and most Kansas scholarships and grants also require that you have one on file before your application can be accepted. We've put together a financial aid guide with more detail on the FAFSA and other general tips for getting all the aid you can.
Here's a short list of state-based financial aid programs that students at career and technical schools in Kansas might qualify for:
- Kansas Career Technical Workforce Grant - Students who earned their high school diploma or equivalency degree in Kansas can apply for this program, which awards between $500 and $1,000 per year.
- Kansas State Scholarship - Completing the required State Scholar curriculum at a Kansas high school qualifies you for this scholarship, which awards as much as $1,000 annually based on financial need.
- Kansas Nursing Service Scholarship - This program awards up to $4,500 in aid per year to students who pledge to work as a registered or licensed practical nurse for one of the scholarship's sponsors after graduating.
Initiatives for Vocational School Students in Kansas
Kansas policymakers understand the need for a well-trained workforce, and several initiatives are in place in the Sunflower State to help students get the knowledge and skills they need to contribute to the state's economy. Here's a short list of active initiatives for students at trade schools in Kansas:
Funding for vocational students in Kansas
- Active National Guard members in Kansas can apply for the Kansas National Guard Educational Assistance Program, which pays up to 15 credit hours per semester of assistance.
- Wichita residents can benefit from the Wichita Promise program, a scholarship initiative that pays tuition and fees for students studying specific high-wage, high-demand job fields.
Kansas policies that benefit vocational students
- Accelerating Opportunity: Kansas (AO-K) is a program designed to provide well-rounded training to vocational school students by delivering basic skills instruction alongside career education.
- Excel in CTE is a statewide program that works to provide incentives for school districts to provide high school students with training in high-need occupations in the state.
School-specific program initiatives in Kansas
- The President's Scholarship at Neosho County Community College provides $2,700 per academic year to Neosho County residents who enroll full-time and hold a cumulative GPA above 3.0.
- Labette Community College offers the Cardinal Scholarship, an award that pays the cost of tuition and books, to eligible students of all majors.
Resources for Vocational Students and Vocational Job Seekers in Kansas
- The Kansas Board of Regents oversees public higher education in the state and can provide in-depth information about community colleges, trade schools and universities in Kansas.
- Kansas Works, whether you visit it on the Web or via the iOS and Android apps of the same name, is a one-stop shop for aspiring students, career changers and graduates ready to enter the workforce.
- It's important to look for accreditation when choosing among the trade and vocational schools in Kansas. Public two-year schools in Kansas are regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, while private institutions are accredited by national groups like the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
The career technical education portal Advance CTE also features some hard facts and figures about Kansas CTE, and students can find state-based and national information about the vocational landscape at the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) site.
Browse Cities in Kansas
Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, we generated a list of schools that met the following criteria:
- Institution type is less than 2 years, greater than 2 & less than 4 years
- Accredited by at least 1 agency (institutional accreditation)
- The school falls under one of the following classifications: (Carnegie Classification 2015: Undergraduate Instructional Program)
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with 30-49% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Associate's Colleges: High Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with more than 50% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Special Focus: Two-Year Institution
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with typically more than 75% of awards in a single career & technical program
We ranked the resulting colleges on the following criteria:
- Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificate programs offered, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of undergraduate students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time student retention rate & part-time retention rate (if full-time retention rate is not available, then use part-time retention rate), National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Mean annual earnings for students working 10 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
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