Technical colleges serve as a viable pathway to a bachelor’s degree

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By Erin Eagan

Technical colleges offer students a solid return on investment — just ask the thousands of graduates who are working good-paying jobs in a field they love.

Some of these graduates earned a diploma or technical certificate; others an associate degree. Another cross-section of students made the jump to a four-year university to earn a bachelor’s degree, an occurrence that becomes more frequent as transfer options increase.

According to a recent National Student Clearinghouse Research Center study, 41 percent of students who receive an associate degree go on to earn a bachelor’s degree. That’s two in five students who take advantage of this pathway to a successful future. 

Why students choose this path
Studies by the American Association of Community Colleges show that students transferring from a two-year college to a four-year university are more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than students who begin their education at the four-year university. A few key factors figure into this outcome.

Technical colleges play a critical role in serving the needs of non-traditional students. Working adults, adults with family responsibilities or students with limited resources make up a large portion of those who initially turn to technical colleges because of their affordability and flexibility. For traditional students, the flexibility may not be an initial draw as much as the small class sizes, the hands-on curriculum, or the fact that the direct path technical colleges provide to many high-demand jobs. This is especially true in careers within IT, healthcare, manufacturing and public safety. Whether they enroll with the intention of transferring or not, however, students who succeed at a technical college are more likely to have the confidence to continue on the path to a bachelor’s degree.   

1. The technical college pathway is cost-effective
Efforts by technical colleges to provide affordable options for students is ongoing. So, it’s advantageous, especially for students not sure of what they want to pursue, to enroll in general education and/or career and technical education (CTE) courses to see where their interests lie and explore different majors. The general education courses meet the same standards as those at large universities but at a fraction of the cost, and the CTE courses give students a valuable look inside a potential career.  

2. A multitude of transfer options make the path even easier
Wisconsin’s technical colleges have developed more than 1,100 articulation or transfer agreements with four-year public and private colleges and universities. These agreements may contain course-to-course equivalencies, while others provide for a total program transfer. Also, the  Universal Credit Transfer Agreement between Wisconsin's Technical Colleges and the University of Wisconsin System allows technical college students to transfer 30 credits of specified core general education courses into any University of Wisconsin College or University.

Students who keep their options open when choosing a college may find that the transfer route is the right path.