From “Rising local higher education enrollment reflects trends” — Local campuses are part of a national trend that has seen college enrollment shoot up as the economy has struggled.

For the past five years or so, colleges across the country have been inundated with applications and from 2008 to 2009, enrollment in college grew by more than 7 percent to just less than 21 million, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. New figures show that rates of enrollment still are increasing, though at a slower rate. In 2010, the number of students in postsecondary institutions was 21.6 million, up 2.8 percent from 2009.

At the same time, many colleges and other institutions have made their admission process more competitive, a trend described in a January 2008 Newsweek article titled “Getting in Gets Harder.”

The economy has played a significant role in the increased interest in college, because students realize they need more than a high school diploma to get a job, said Laurie Borowicz, vice president of student services at Northcentral Technical College, who has just completed a doctoral dissertation on enrollment trends.

NTC has nearly doubled in size within the past four years, enrolling 6,070 students last year in either one- or two-year programs, up from 3,149 in 2008.

Mid-State Technical College, which has facilities that include a Wisconsin Rapids campus and a center in the city of Adams, has seen a 30 percent increase in full-time students since the 2007-08 academic year, something officials said is directly correlated with the economy’s dramatic downturn.

“It is certainly in line with unemployment,” said Connie Willfahrt, vice president of Student Affairs and Information Technology at MSTC. “When the recession hit, we (saw) higher enrollment.”

The University of Wisconsin-Marshfield/Wood County reported a 16 percent increase during the previous four years, adding about 100 students. Nearly 70 percent of the members of UW-M/WC’s student body are first in their families to attend college.

“We see more students pursuing practical majors,” said Annette Hackbarth-Onson, interim assistant campus dean of Student Services at UW-M/WC. “They are looking toward a destination.”

MSTC has added more sections and hired additional part-time faculty to cope with increased demand for classes, Willfahrt said.

MSTC and NTC both see more students pursuing degrees in health programs. At NTC those programs were so popular there were waiting lists, Borowicz said, some stretching several years.

“That wasn’t serving us or the students well,” Borowicz said. Now students take an admission test and are accepted to NTC health programs based on the results.

MSTC is seeing enrollment start to level off, something Willfahrt said can be attributed to the economy slowly recovering. However, she said MSTC doesn’t plan to pull back on faculty as the need is still great.

MSTC operates three campuses in central Wisconsin and the center in Adams. NTC operates six campuses.

From  “Workforce Corner: “Building Bridges and Life Skills” — Summer is finally here in the northland! And, with this season comes employment opportunities for regional youth. The Crex Meadows Youth Conservation Camp, located in Grantsburg, Wis., is a very unique summer option for eligible teens from northwest Wisconsin. Over the past five years, applications for camp have steadily increased. This year, camp received its highest number of applications ever—125 applications for 76 available openings. Nearly every school within the ten county region the camp serves will be represented.

Campers work with the DNR on a variety of projects at the 30,000-acre Crex Meadows Wildlife Area and Governor Knowles State Forest and are paid for their labor, which is an unusual feature for a summer camp and holds great interest for campers. In the past, campers have removed invasive plant species, performed native seed collection, built bridges to increase trail accessibility, and assisted in the entire Canadian Geese banding process.

“Last year, there was a severe wind storm in Grantsburg. The campers during one of the sessions worked on post-storm clean up, which was a great experience because the campers got to work and be involved in the community and with the community members,” said Suzannah Crandall, camp director.

In addition to their work with the DNR, campers participate in a hands-on science and life-skill based curriculum. Some of the science activities have included plant and animal identification, radio telemetry and triangulation, and analyzing and examining water samples. Local school districts support the camp by rewarding the campers with science or elective credit that can be used towards high school graduation. A distinctive aspect of the camp curriculum is that it is delivered by people from different organizations, allowing campers to be exposed to a diverse wealth of knowledge.

“The life-skill based curriculum is a tremendous learning opportunity,” said Crandall. “This year one of the topics we will discuss is career development. The class will involve looking at the skills and education you need for specific jobs, the process of applying for jobs, and how to prepare a resume and cover letter. Part of this lesson will also be on social media and how others perceive you based on your personal profiles.”

Some of the organizations participating in this summer’s upcoming activities are: Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC), Crex Meadows Education Staff, and DNR Interns. WITC staff will be involved in the career development activity and will be performing career assessments. Crex Meadows Education Staff aid in supervising campers during their conservation projects while working alongside them and leading lessons and other team building activities. DNR Interns share information about the projects they are currently working on.

Campers don’t just work and study, however. There is also plenty of fun and recreation including swimming, sports, trust and teambuilding activities, campfire games, storytelling, movies, canoeing, and hiking. The camp is a partnership between CEP, Inc., the Northwest Wisconsin Workforce Investment Board, Inc., and the federal Workforce Investment Act.

From “CEO group fosters collaboration” — In an effort to help workers gain the skills they need to fill open positions, local employers are coming together to benefit each other and the community.

Known as the Workforce Central CEO Peer Council, a group of business executives representing about a dozen local manufacturers in south Wood County, meets once a month to discuss the issues they are facing and to share best practices and ideas for specialized training programs.

“It all starts on a collaborative level,” said Rick Merdan, manufacturing facilitator for Workforce Central. “It’s a good example of how when we come together, we can do more than we can apart.

“It’s been a good, vital cog in the community to have that group,” Merdan said.

Several training programs have resulted from those discussions, including leadership courses, supervisory and project management training, a food manufacturing science certificate, Manufacturing Skills Standard Certification and an industrial manufacturing certification program, all through Mid-State Technical College.

Many participants are employees of the companies that helped inspire the courses, and for them, the courses offer first-of-their-kind or supplemental training to existing company programs, local executives said.

“The opportunity to send our current and future leaders to these training opportunities allows them to gain these (sets) of skills and add them to their toolbox,” said Geoff Bertin, plant manager for ERCO Worldwide in Port Edwards, noting about a dozen employees have participated in leadership and supervisory training programs.

At Ocean Spray Cranberries in Wisconsin Rapids, the supervisory training programs have contributed to increased production and even led to the local facility garnering the company’s Plant of the Year title for the fourth year in a row, plant manager Kirk Willard said.

“You don’t do that without getting better,” Willard said.

The programs fill an immediate need to attract skilled workers as an increasing number of manufacturing employees retire or find themselves the victims of company downsizing, said Bruce Trimble, employer services director for the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.

“There’s lot of employers that are not taking on new orders that they could if they had (skilled) employees,” Trimble said. “The work is out there, but the skills aren’t. These kinds of programs meet that immediate and short-term need that keeps them going or helps them expand.”

The ability to collaborate with their counterparts at other local companies allows both members of the CEO Peer Council and training program participants to gain insight into improving their own work, Willard said.

“For them to be able to learn from all the manufacturers in town to be able to talk about problems and troubleshooting … it’s important,” he said. “Very few communities and very few industries do that.”

In addition, to be able to present an idea to company officials along with information about what other local manufacturers are doing can make the ideas more attractive, Willard said.

“If I can say here’s what’s collectively going on in our community, the corporate office is going to say, ‘We don’t want to be an outlier in our community,'” he said.

From “Column: Skills gap slowly closes with training program” — Much is being written about, talked about and even campaigned about regarding the “skills gap.” What is it, how did it occur and what is the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, or NCWWDB, doing to address this issue?

The skills gap is occurring in our Workforce Development Area 6, or WDA, in three sectors.

Manufacturing is the sector garnering the most publicity. In a nutshell, manufacturers in our area have many openings for skilled positions and yet the majority of those looking for work do not possess the skills needed. Welders and machine tool operators are at the forefront of this demand right now.

How did this disparity occur? For a long time in our WDA, we had many family-supporting positions available in our area. There were nearly as many jobs for people of all skill levels as available workers. These jobs were thought of as lifelong opportunities, and many indeed were.

At the same time, parents (myself included), encouraged our children to attend college and never gave a thought to the good-paying careers available in manufacturing. Some parents’ trepidation was based on a conception that manufacturing involved dirty conditions, hot environments and monotonous work, none of which are the norm today. From climate-controlled shops, state-of-the-art robotics and computer-controlled machines, our area’s manufacturing facilities look more like show rooms. And jobs in these skilled areas provide solid, family-supporting wages.

NCWWDB offers training programs and support to the workforce we serve. At the front of the list are the short-term training programs in machine tool and welding we are sponsoring with one of our partners, Northcentral Technical College, or NTC, in Wausau. NTC shortened a curriculum to 20 weeks, and we are running our third sessions of both programs, which are geared primarily for workers recently dislocated.

At the end of each of these short-term programs, NCWWDB facilitates a roundtable with local manufacturing employers allowing the graduating students an opportunity to display their work samples and talk with the employers.

We also provide support to dislocated and adult workers in two-year programs to train for both these and other careers. We partnered with Mid-State Technical College in a food science manufacturing program to fill a need in the area’s food industries. We are working with Nicolet Area Technical College to put together another short-term program (similar to one we ran a few years ago) to fill that area’s manufacturing needs. And, we recently began a customized training program within one company where upon successful completion of the training, the graduates will be given full-time positions with benefits.

As I meet with employers from the nine counties we serve, I’m on the lookout for other opportunities as well as just listening to employers. Our workforce partners also are working diligently to help fill these gaps. WDA 6 employers are eager for our participants to complete their programs and for more to enter. Eventually, these gaps will fill, but they took years to develop and will take some time to fill.

For more information about NCWWDB’s Employer Services, call me at 715-422-4706 or email

Bruce Trimble is the employer services director at the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.

From “Some college graduates return to tech school for job training” — Ericka Seastrand graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in consumer science. She beat the pavement for nine months, and the only job she could get was retail sales associate at a mall.

“The market was really competitive,” the 26-year-old from West Milwaukee recalled last week. “My degree was a generic business degree – nothing technical or tangible in the skill set. So I decided to get another degree with a hard skill set.”

Seastrand is one of a surprising number of 20-somethings who graduated from college in recent years, couldn’t find good-paying jobs with their four-year degrees, and enrolled in a technical college to earn a second degree or diploma geared toward specific job opportunities.

In the last three years, 6.4% of the total number of degrees and diplomas awarded at Waukesha County Technical College went to 20-somethings who self-reported they had at least 16 years of education before enrolling at the technical college, according to data analysis requested by the Journal Sentinel. Twenty-somethings represented 79.5% of all WCTC’s grads from 2009 to 2011 who already had bachelor’s degrees.

The percentages of 20-somethings with bachelor’s degrees who graduated during the same time from other technical colleges in the state – Madison (5.5%), Milwaukee (2.9%), Moraine Park (2.3%) and Gateway (2.1%) – were lower, but still noteworthy.

Connecting college degrees with jobs is a high-stakes challenge as graduates compete for fewer jobs while facing the prospect of repaying hefty student loans because financially strapped parents couldn’t help pay for college, and tuition at four-year universities has risen faster than the rate of inflation.

The Legislature, starting next year, will require the University of Wisconsin System to report job placement for its grads as part of new accountability measures.

Those who are strategic from the start of college – networking through campus activities, tapping career counseling services early and gaining practical experience through undergraduate research, volunteer work or internships – have always been the most successful at landing jobs right away, college officials agree.

But those who aren’t as purposeful in their pursuit of a career have an increasingly difficult time in this economy, though college grads overall still fare much better than those without a degree. The government reported the April unemployment rate for college grads was 4%, compared with 7.9% for high school grads.

After finishing an associate degree in graphic design with an emphasis on Web design at Madison Area Technical College last December, Seastrand, of West Milwaukee, quickly landed a job at Pilch & Barnet in Madison.

Hers is a cautionary tale.

She didn’t use UW-Madison’s career counseling services beyond seminars on résumé writing and interview skills during her four years there. She also didn’t realize the value of networking early enough. She did have opportunities to do unpaid internships, but could not afford to take them because she needed a paying job, she said.

A paid internship gained through Madison Area Technical College helped Seastrand land her Web design job at Pilch & Barnet.

Now paying off more than $50,000 in student loan debt, Seastrand’s advice to graduating high school students is to be strategic about college:

“Get connected in the community and really understand what you want to do, then pursue it. I didn’t have a clear idea of what my future job would entail, so I could have the network and make myself more competitive,” she said.

A tech degree has made her more competitive, she said, “though I gained a lot of experience from my four-year degree that I think will pay off in the long run.”

Competitive job market

Companies can be very specific about what skills they want in prospective employees because they’re flooded with applicants in a tight economy, said Alfonso Studesville, a career counselor at Madison Area Technical College for the past 18 years.

“A technical college minimizes the academic and focuses more on hands-on skills and applications for a particular field,” he said. “We have a lot of students who want to get going quickly with a career. It’s an employer’s market; they have so many applicants with specific experience to pick from.”

UW-Madison frames a college education around critical skills and competencies “rather than knowledge of a subject,” said Wren Singer, director of the university’s Center for the First-Year Experience, which helps freshmen get off to a good start in college.

“Students are going to end up doing five to six different jobs in their career,” Wren said. “National research shows employers want problem-solving skills, critical thinking and the ability to get along with people. Majors in any number of areas can teach that.”

UW-Madison is starting earlier to impress upon college students the need to be strategic about networking and gaining experience through internships, volunteering in their field, and undergraduate research opportunities, Singer said.

She’s concerned that more students are choosing professional programs because of their direct links to jobs.

“I don’t know if they’re making the right choice, because they may not be happy if they haven’t really explored,” Singer said. “We want them to expand their thinking that you’re not preparing for the first job, but for the long run. . . . An education is intended to prepare them for the second job, the third job, being a citizen in the world and being part of a democracy.”

Today’s students aren’t that much different from generations before them, said Mark Nook, senior vice president for academic affairs for the University of Wisconsin System.

“They know there’s a value to their education,” Nook said. “But a bigger portion wants a job at the end and isn’t looking for an education, where – when I was a student – we knew if we got an education, we’d find jobs. There are more students coming for very specific reasons and really wanting that job waiting for them.”

Degree but no job

Jake Staral, 23, graduated in December 2010 from UW-Madison with a degree in biology, spent about six months applying for jobs, and enrolled in Moraine Park Technical College’s water quality technology program on the advice of a family friend.

A first-generation college student, Staral said he had to figure out a lot for himself.

“I thought it would be easy to get a job that paid $30,000 to $40,000 a year, so I was a little bewildered after I graduated,” he said. “But I know the four-year degree will help me, along with the hands-on experience I’m gaining at Moraine Park.”

Staral plans to graduate from Moraine Park next year. He wishes he had taken advantage of advising services at UW-Madison.

That’s a step in the right direction, according to Katee Longmore, 26, who graduated from UW-Milwaukee in December 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in architectural studies.

Last weekend, Longmore graduated from Milwaukee Area Technical College with a second degree – an associate degree in landscape horticulture. She has a job at Kelly’s Greenscapes in Sussex.

She has no regrets about first earning a bachelor’s degree.

“These two degrees together are getting me where I need to be,” Longmore said. She wishes she had gotten involved with student organizations, and gained experience through internships before finishing a degree she wasn’t sure she wanted, she added.

Megan Gardner, 27, graduated from UW-Whitewater in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and a minor in marketing.

She worked for four years as a marketing assistant at a local lighting manufacturer before it went out of business in May 2011.

“I knew it would be hard to find another job because of the economy, and I was scared I could lose my job again if I found one, so I decided I needed a career with more stability,” Gardner said.

Her parents own a dental lab in Waukesha, and suggested she think about becoming a dental technician.

Gardner graduated from MATC’s dental technician technical diploma program a week ago, and works at the family dental lab.

“I’m still interested in marketing and graphic design, but I really like being a dental technician,” she said.

“I have no regrets about my four-year degree, because I have a well-rounded education.”

From “Students snap pictures behind the pictures” — The assignment for Pierre Stephenson’s students was simple: To photograph photographers taking photographs.

A Madison Area Technical College instructor and photo pro himself, Stephenson paired each of the 27 students in his advanced Location Lighting classes with a professional working in the field. The students were in the final months of the college’s photography curriculum — a two-year associate degree program so popular it has a two-year waiting list, Stephenson said.

Their homework was to capture a working photographer juggling all the tasks it takes to run a successful business — “anything from actual photography to meeting with clients to post-production and building albums to editing on the computer,” he said.

“There’s this general belief — and a very strong push by manufacturers and labs to say that ‘Anybody can do it — if you buy this camera, you’ll be a professional photographer.’ What we really wanted to document was the vast array of skills that goes into being a professional,” Stephenson said.

“A lot of those have not changed from the film days — all the skills with lighting and posing and making your client comfortable and to flatter them. All the technology in the world doesn’t make a difference.”

For student Phoebe Guenzel, the real-world experience was to contrast her own interests in editorial and commercial photography with the photojournalism of sports photographer Todd Olsen. “I got to follow him to a basketball game and he’s sitting right there on the court,” she said.

Student Nicholas Hanson shot pictures of portrait photographer Michael Mowbray at work in his studio. Hanson’s task wasn’t easy, Mowbray said, because of the extra challenge “of working around us without getting in the way, and being able to utilize the available light and not contaminate any of the lighting that I’m using with my client.”

From “State awards $638,216 to train workers for ‘green’ jobs” — More than $638,000 in grants aimed at training workers for “green” jobs such as building solar panels and wind turbines has been awarded by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, state officials said Friday.

At the same time, the department said it is awarding $232,500 in grants to help ensure the state has a skilled labor force for industries such as manufacturing and health care.

The green job training money is part of a $6 million U.S. Department of Labor allocation to Wisconsin in 2010 to fund its Wisconsin Sector Alliance for the Green Economy, or SAGE, project. The $638,216 award represents the latest round of funding.

In all, the three-year SAGE initiative will provide training to approximately 4,500 new and ex isting apprentices for “green” energy jobs, the department said. In addition, more than 1,000 journey workers will receive green skills training.

“As more homeowners, businesses and utilities opt for renewable energy sources, we will need skilled workers to build, install and maintain renewable energy systems,” said Reggie Newson, secretary of the Department of Workforce Development. “These grants will also help meet the need for welders. In addition, we are taking steps to make the training programs themselves more energy efficient, safe and environmentally friendly.”

Various trades

The grants fund training in six trades: carpenter, construction craft laborer, construction electrician, ironworker, sheet metal and steamfitter. Grant contracts authorize funding for curriculum, equipment and supplies, as well as training needed by the instructors for either the technical colleges or independent training agencies.

Of the $638,216, $326,420 was awarded to the apprenticeship and training trust of the Associated Builders & Contractors of Wisconsin Inc. Most of the money will be used to purchase heavy equipment and welding simulators. Apprentices will undergo computer-simulated training rather than use the more costly heavy equipment in the field. The simulators will reduce fuel costs and let apprentices safely learn basic operations before using heavy equipment at excavation work sites, the department said.

Other SAGE grants supporting training: $186,770 to Plumbers, Steamfitters, Refrigeration Workers and Service Technicians Local 434; $67,900 to Ironworkers Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee Local 8; $49,126 to Moraine Park Technical College; and $8,000 to Mid-State Technical College.

Separate grants totaling $232,500 will go to 10 regional workforce development boards, funding their efforts to develop strategies and customized training programs to meet the need for skilled workers in manufacturing, health care and other high-growth sectors, the department said.

The grants, ranging from $22,500 to $25,000, will go to workforce boards in various regions of the state.

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