In the coming months, Regent Ed McKechnie, would like to see the university governing body start to encourage other schools to explore similar arrangements to the DCCC plan.

In the proposed merging of Dodge City Community College into Fort Hays State University, members of the Kansas Board of Regents see an example for the state's community colleges.

"I'm not a big rules and regs guy, it seems heavy-handed to ask community colleges to meet criteria to receive money," Regent Ed McKechnie said at the board's meeting Thursday, but the Board of Regents should either "encourage" or "require" community colleges to communicate with universities about potential partnerships before they come to the board with budget requests.

"I don't know how to do that, per se, other than to say we need to raise that conversation in a public way," he said. The court of public opinion can force local college boards to do what's best for their communities.

McKechnie's comments followed the introduction of a resolution by the Seward County Community College Board of Trustees questioning the process of the proposed DCCC merger.

In it, the SCCC board said it is concerned the proposed merger could be detrimental to workforce development programs at its college, Garden City Community College and Colby Community College, and that the plan was developed "without sufficient research regarding potential enrollment based on the historical enrollment in bachelor's degree programs offered in southwest Kansas."

"This would obviously have an impact on us, and it would be substantial," said SCCC board member Dustin Ormiston during the trustees' May 5 meeting.

"Sometimes, you need to bring attention to something that has potential negative consequences," SCCC President Duane Dunn said at that meeting. "This is a concern to some of the other community college presidents in Kansas. If the domino hits, what’s the next phase?"

The merging of a state university with a community college could create a precedent, agreed SCCC legal counselor Kerry McQueen.

Members also pointed to the 2008 merging of the Area Technical School and the community college into one organization, seemingly meeting the broad goals of the Board of Regents to align higher education with industry without ceding academic control to a state university.

Likewise, DCCC has also invested significantly into technical education. Planners have said existing programs available at the school will

The resolution from Seward County was the lone voice of dissent among a pile of resolutions of support from the governing bodies of USD 443, Dodge City and Ford County, and 27 letters from Dodge City area businesses presented by DCCC board member Morris Reeves.

"I think there are trustees in the communities that really struggle with this because there are those in the community that think it's 1965 — and it's not 1965 — there isn't a lot of federal money coming down," McKechnie said.

Of the 19 community colleges in Kansas, some are performing well, McKechnie said, singling out Johnson County Community College, while others are not. He said it is a mistake to consider them all the same.

While a school like Johnson County Community College might not benefit from similar arrangements as the one proposed for Dodge City, other schools might see real benefits.

"There are legitimate legislators asking legitimate questions about what kind of leadership is being applied here," McKechnie added.

"We know there are some more two-year institutions and four-year institutions that could work together in our state," McKechnie said. To the community college trustees that resist this kind of change, he said he doesn't think they "fully appreciate the victim in this is the student."

At the KBOR meeting, Dunn spoke up to defend his board's position, qualify its resolution as a list of concerns rather than outright opposition.

"There's never been a conversation" leading into the DCCC proposal, he said. "I guess that's a real struggle for me to have faith in this process."

When his community college merged with the local technical school, it got "zero support" from the state, he said, and to reach that point, the school and the community had to go through a process that involved public discussions, applications and research.

"Here we're talking about establishing a new institution and there's been no research and no process."

Dunn's statement to the regents mirrored a comment made by Oriston of the SCCC trustees on May 5: "This resolution isn’t necessarily against anything — it’s not a slap in the face — it just says it needs to be vetted more.”

The comments resurrect opposition that is attributed to sinking the proposed merging of Pratt Community College into FHSU in the late 1990s. Community colleges across the state were vocal in their opposition, concerned that it would lead to increasing control on the community colleges by the state. That pressure led to the Board of Regents voting down the merger proposal.

Regent Chair Fred Logan said he questioned the need to make it a requirement for community colleges to have conversations with the state universities. "I think discussion is important, I think it's a discussion they should be having, ... it needs to be an ongoing discussion."

As part of the Board of Regents' "Foresight 2020" plan, the state higher education system seeks 60 percent of adult Kansans to possess some sort of post-secondary degree or certificate. This has proven to be one of the more aspirational goals in the board's ongoing strategic plan and as the board gets closer to 2020, it is likely it will apply more pressure on community colleges.

"I think we need to help break down those barriers," McKechnie said, and the next two months as the regents prepare their biennial funding request is the right time to start.