A psychologist by training, Daniels led community colleges in Los Angeles, Springfield, Ill., and Houston before landing his current job. In Madison, he is tasked with addressing sharp cuts in state aid to technical schools as well as new state mandates that tie technical college funding to a variety of measures, including the rate at which their graduates find employment.
Why might somebody seeking a bachelor’s degree go to MATC and then transfer to a four-year college? Why not just go directly to the four-year institution?
Sometimes the transition for high school students to a system that is very large is challenging. UW has large classes; they’re basically auditoriums. Students don’t get the one-on-one interaction that they would at MATC. It eases them into that transfer ability.
And then for returning adults — our average age is 29 — it’s an opportunity for them to ease back into that 4-year grind, to understand where their strengths are and their weaknesses. Especially for people who come from a low-income background, where the affordability goes hand in hand with accessibility.
It seems like a lot of that could just be criticism of our higher education system in general, the high price of four year colleges, the large class sizes.
I don’t want to call it a criticism because they have their own resource issues and challenges. Those are research institutions and their cost of running is much greater than ours. But it is no different from across the country. In fact, in California, there will be a 5-to-1 difference in a unit cost between a four year institution and a community college there. It is not as drastic here.
Do many Madison College students just seek a liberal arts Associate’s degree without intending to transfer for a Bachelor’s degree?
Normally students doing a liberal arts Associate’s are seeking to transfer. I haven’t seen cases where that would not be happening.
What are typical Associate’s degrees that you’d get if you’re not planning to transfer to get a Bachelor’s degree?
Well, I go back to my 60 percent of students in the trades. Automotive technician, diesel equipment technician… these are normally not transfers. It’s difficult, because many of these degrees can’t transfer to programs at four-year institutions.
But take an Associate’s degree in advanced manufacturing. Now I could very well transfer to the school of engineering, however, what (Madison College has) developed are career pathways, so as soon as I complete my (degree) in advanced manufacturing I can actually go to work in a manufacturing company. I think the same thing holds true for health. You can transfer to get your Bachelor’s degree in nursing, but you can also go to work with that Associate’s degree in nursing. Same thing for respiratory therapy, physical therapy and all the health areas.
Do you think that focus on careers is lacking at four-year institutions?
I’d probably be a little disadvantaged to speak about that. I haven’t been at a four-year institution in many years.
But an interesting thing here, with many liberal arts degrees, students can’t get jobs once they get their baccalaureate. They’re coming back to MATC after getting their baccalaureate. We have a high number of baccalaureate graduates who are coming to get further training to go to work. We have a high number of graduates from UW-Madison who are coming to get a paralegal degree. Same thing with biotechnology. And then we have those relationships with those (biotech) companies, like ProMega, so you have direct line to those areas.
Is there enough funding for technical colleges in this state?
(Laughs) There’s never enough funding for them. We’re experiencing a different type of funding now. Our funding will be more dependent on the state than property tax dollars. But you never have enough resources. It causes us to look at our priorities. Where do we shift dollars? We try to supplement that with grants and we also have substantial support from our foundation, especially with regards to scholarships for our students.
Does the foundation get most of its support from individuals, including alumni, or more from other nonprofit organizations?
The latter. We don’t have an alumni association. That’s one of the goals we have for the next year, to develop that. Because I’m quite sure that the number of students who have gone to MATC — and I’ve talked to a number of them in the past week — say, “Without MATC, we wouldn’t be here.” You hear these stories over and over again.
Talk to me about the new performance-based funding that has been mandated by the state.
In the first year, which starts July 1, there is a certain funding set aside and 10 percent of that is based on performance. There are nine (performance) categories and among them we will select seven of them on which we will be measured. In the next biennium it will go to 20 percent (based on performance) and then the following year it will go to 30 percent.
We’re confident in those categories. We do very well.
Do you think this performance-based funding is a good development?
I think there’s a necessity to have some level of accountability. If you think about it as a true developmental model, if you have a school that is not performing, what types of interventions do you make to make sure it is performing? But I think the 10, 20, 30 model is good. I wouldn’t want to see it go much higher than that.
But if a school is under-performing, how is cutting its funding going to improve it?
That’s a good question. I would think there would have to be some other guidelines set for how long do you get that funding. I don’t think you can cut it off immediately.
We are continually looking at what we do. But one of the things the formula doesn’t account for is transfers. It is purely based on technical trades and related outcomes from that.
So it’s not assessing 40 percent of your student body? Is that a flaw?
I think there are a few colleges in the state that believe there need to be some modifications to account for that.