Wisconsin technical colleges - and their grads - were built for this moment
In any other year, I’d be traveling to join them in graduation celebrations. But as we know, this year is different. Historically different.
In March, it became clear Wisconsin could not avoid the effects of the global coronavirus pandemic, and the expectations of the communities our colleges have faithfully served for more than 100 years instantly intensified.
Our colleges, students and graduates adapted and responded immediately, as only they could.
The colleges quickly and efficiently donated, loaned or sterilized vital medical and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care partners and first responders. They made facilities, technology and skilled personnel available to state and local governments and relief agencies. And they shifted the entirety of their highly complex operations in nearly an instant to assure a steady flow of skilled graduates in our greatest moment of need.
At the same time, technical college graduates are proving they have the skills to maintain Wisconsin’s vital electrical power distribution, broadband, Information Technology (IT), manufacturing, agriculture, food production and residential and commercial building and systems infrastructure.
Technical college graduates demonstrate they are the pillars of the state’s personal and commercial transportation, distribution and logistics framework.
And technical college graduates thrive on the front lines as nurses and allied health care professionals, firefighters, law enforcement and corrections officers, paramedics and EMTs.
Through it all, our colleges and graduates have delivered the value they always do, maintaining a steady, unassuming focus on the communities and employers they serve.
Now, the state faces economic challenges on top of the pandemic, adding a layer of uncertainty to the already intense pressure on the higher education sector to match the rapid pace of change in the workplace. This is when the unique role of Wisconsin’s technical colleges gives me a quiet confidence.
Our mission, as always, requires the colleges to work with employers to continuously modify every college program, assuring they keep pace with changes in the workplace. This is reflected in graduate placement rates that are routinely well over 90% and that remain steady, even in times of recession. It’s possible that our grads, who stay in the communities where they learn, will be even more essential as Wisconsin adjusts to a post-pandemic economy.
Based on demographic trends in Wisconsin and beyond, higher education is also being newly held to account to equitably serve all students. Students and employers demand it. And again, as open access institutions dedicated to assuring the success of all students, this is a well-established strength and commitment of our System.
In addition to degree and accelerated credential programs, we’re the largest provider of dual credit, providing college credits and credentials for more than 50,000 high school students annually. Our colleges also offer transfer opportunities for those who plan to pursue further education, immediately or in the future. And technical colleges provide classroom instruction for a growing number of “earn-while-you-learn” apprenticeship opportunities, of increasing interest to employers.
Wisconsin’s technical colleges are also trusted by employers to provide routine technical assistance, as well as customized instruction for those already on the job. The pace of technological change has made lifelong learning an economic imperative.
Our programs in the areas of Adult Education, for those who need to improve their academic skills before accessing postsecondary programs, English Language Learning (ELL) and re-entry programs for offenders provide an on-ramp to academic programs that improve individuals’ circumstances and the state’s economy.
This ability to flexibly meet the needs of such a wide variety of learners – with consistently strong outcomes proven over time – uniquely positions Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges to be invaluable to students, employers and communities throughout Wisconsin.
It’s impossible to move through any day – particularly recent days – without benefitting from the skills, knowledge, dedication and courage of a technical college graduate. I never worry about demand for our graduates.
So it is with humility, admiration and deep gratitude that I offer my congratulations to our 2020 technical college graduates, and my thanks to tech college alumni throughout Wisconsin. I’m inspired by you every single day.
Within our System, we say “we were built for this moment.” Because of you, now everybody knows how true that is.
About WTCS: The Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) consists of 16 colleges that enroll more than 300,000 students each year in over 500 programs. The colleges award associate degrees and short-term credentials – boasting 94 percent graduate placement in Wisconsin – as well as dual credit for high school students and instruction for registered apprenticeships. Because the System is a major talent pipeline and premier provider of customized instruction and technical assistance for Wisconsin employers, 98% say a technical college is important to the success of their business. Visit the WTCS website to learn more.