Technical education in Northeast Kansas began during World War II when Topeka High School established Topeka Trade School in 1941. In addition to machine shop and auto mechanics courses, the school eventually provided wartime and civil service training for Topeka Army Air Field personnel as well as pre-induction training for students bound for military service.
Founded as Northeast Kansas Vocational Technical School in 1964, the school was renamed Kaw Area Vocational Technical School in 1967, followed by Kaw Area Technical School in 1992. In 2008, the management of the school shifted from Topeka Unified School District 501 Board of Education to be operated as a unit administered by Washburn University and governed by its Board of Regents.
Today, operating as Washburn Institute of Technology, it is the managing partner of a consortium of 17 member school districts and serves as a national model for the true partnership between technical education and traditional university.