HAYS — Hays City Commissioner Ron Mellick recalls the big local debate 10 years ago when the commission decided to lease the vacated U.S. Army Reserve building on south Main to NCK Tech.

“I was on the commission when we deliberated on whether to turn that campus over to you guys,” said Mellick, addressing NCKTech President Eric Burks. “We had no idea you guys would take it and run with it like this. This is fantastic. If we could have seen then what we see now, that decision would have been done in a heartbeat.”

Known as Big Creek Technical Training Center, the brick building is an extension of NCK’s larger Wheatland Avenue campus in Hays. It houses electrical technology, plumbing and HVAC, as well as carpentry classes.

“This is our 10-year anniversary,” Burks told the Hays City commissioners, “and since 2009, we’ve trained 440 full-time students in that space that you’ve allowed us to be a part of, so I appreciate that.”

This academic year, for the first time ever, the freshman class in Hays is the same size, 250 students, as in Beloit, where the two-year college started out as a vocational technical school to keep western Kansas’ rural and small town kids from leaving the area.

Burks told commissioners that 90% of NCK’s graduates stay in Kansas.

“Most of our graduates stay within 50 miles of where they attend, or they go back to their home,” Burks said. “Their skills, though, enable them to go anywhere. If they want to go to Dallas, or they want to go to Chicago, Denver, wherever, they certainly have portable degrees they can take.”

A fully accredited college by the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits all the 2- and 4-year higher education institutions in Kansas, Burks said many of NCK’s 1,200 students ultimately transfer into FHSU when they finish.

Likewise, NCK graduates 300 students annually into the Kansas workforce, he said, with salaries comparable to four-year college grads, but without their heavy debt burden.

“Some of our students couldn’t go to their own graduation ceremony because they couldn’t get off work,” Burks said. “We’ve had the No. 1 placement in the nation for two years, 2017 and 2018.”