Wisconsin voters support investment in technical education
The recent approval of a $79.8 million referendum for Western Technical College (Western) means four of the last four Wisconsin technical college referenda have been given the green light by voters. Taxpayers throughout the state have shown their support for quality, post-secondary education leading to better-paying jobs and careers for Wisconsin residents.
Western’s measure passed by eight percentage points (54 percent to 46 percent), with approximately 118,000 voters casting ballots. Last April, voters in the Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) district supported a $66.5 million measure. In November 2010, voters approved a $133.8 million referendum for Madison College, the largest referendum of any kind in the state. Southwestern Wisconsin Technical College (SWTC) also passed a $32 million referendum in April 2008.
Unlike school districts, Wisconsin technical colleges can’t use referendum dollars for operating costs. State statute requires the technical colleges to gain voter approval before starting new building projects that top $1.5 million. Funds raised through these referenda allow the colleges to build or remodel facilities to meet the growing demand for skilled workers in various fields including health care, technology, agriculture, public safety, transportation and advanced manufacturing.
In some cases colleges had not gone to voters to request tax increases to support building projects in 30 years.
"Most people can readily understand the problems associated with living in a building or house you haven't done much to in over 30 years," said Terry Webb, Madison College’s vice president for learner success.
Enrollment growth, changes in education technology and energy efficiency also influenced the referenda. FVTC has experienced 30 percent growth in enrollment over the last three years. FVTC officials said the added capacity brought by new facilities would allow for another 700 degree-seeking students and workforce training/continuing education for about 3,500 more each year.
More than 16,000 people are taking classes or seminars at Western — and half of those are seeking degrees. Enrollment there has increased 14 percent in the past five years.
However, the success of these referenda isn’t just about buildings. Even in these difficult economic times, taxpayers are willing to share the cost through tax increases. More and more Wisconsinites believe the return on investment in technical colleges ($12.20 return for every dollar invested) justifies their contribution.
Estimates say Western’s projects will lead to $112 million in economic activity, creating more than 900 jobs and generating $3.4 million in tax revenue by the time the project is completed in 2016.
Wisconsin’s technical colleges have earned the public trust. Citizens have confidence in these institutions and see that they are accountable for outcomes.
Most of us know someone who has benefited from education at a technical college. WTCS graduates touch our lives almost every day. One in nine Wisconsin adults attend a technical college each year. Our graduates clean your teeth, restore your power, come to your aid in an emergency, cut your hair, test your blood and maintain your car.
Graduates of Wisconsin’s technical colleges contribute to local economies and communities. Their earning power increases each year through promotion or job changes as they progress in their careers.
Thank you to the many taxpayers who use their votes to acknowledge this significant return on investment for Wisconsin’s Futuremakers.