From Opinion “MATC adds to the fabric of Milwaukee” — By Michael L. Burke 

I read with interest the Jan. 25 column “Beleaguered taxpayers deserve say on MATC.” Having just written my check for my annual share of taxes for living in Milwaukee County, I paused to ponder the whole taxation transaction. In lieu of cursing my beleaguered, tax-paying fate, I thought it best to light a candle and shed light on how I see Milwaukee Area Technical College and its role in shaping Milwaukee.

First, I see taxes as the cost I pay to live in a civilized community, a place where:

If I dial 911, an MATC-trained first responder comes to my house and administers medical assistance, provides police services or maybe puts out a fire.

If I need medical attention, I go to a doctor who gets help from an MATC-trained nurse, phlebotomist, medical assistant, respiratory therapist, surgical technician or cardiovascular technician.

If I need my car fixed, my sump pump replaced, my heating system repaired, my computer upgraded or my house wiring diagnosed, I know that the person I am dealing with probably has an MATC degree or certificate.

My simple point is: The fabric of Milwaukee – from accountants to welders – is being held together by highly skilled, well-trained and well-paid MATC graduates. Personally, I find it hard to imagine what our quality of life would be like here if it were not for MATC.

Is what we do at MATC expensive? Yes, it is. Does it take highly skilled, technically savvy, industry-literate faculty and staff to train our future workforce? Yes, it does. Does MATC rank first in cost per full-time student? Actually, no it doesn’t. According to the Wisconsin Technical College System website, MATC ranks sixth out of the 16 technical colleges in cost in Wisconsin.

Yes, we collect $140 million in property taxes. Yes, that is a big number. However, here is an even bigger number: $879 million. That is the amount of economic benefit that MATC returned to this community in 2010. This figure comes from Economic Modeling Specialists, which calculated the economic benefit MATC generates annually. The bulk of that $879 million comprises the intellectual capital we create when our students become smarter, skilled and industry-certified. I would humbly submit that 6-to-1 is a pretty healthy return on investment.

The beleaguered taxpayer wondered if there might be another funding mechanism besides property taxes to support MATC and other technical colleges in Wisconsin. Actually, state aid once accounted for a third of our budget. This year, state aid is slightly less than 10% of our total budget.

Concerning how MATC is governed, anyone with the inclination to help MATC can consider two avenues of service, both involving long hours and no pay. First, consider joining the more than 830 community volunteers who serve on our 91 program advisory committees. You will have an opportunity to share your expertise with our faculty as they design and redesign our curricula to meet employer needs.

Second, consider serving on our all-volunteer Board of Directors. True, you will not have a general election, but you will have to pass muster with the 25 representatives of our area K-12 school district boards. It takes more than just a willingness to serve. It takes a thorough knowledge of what our workforce needs are, how to manage scarce resources and how to lead a premier educational organization.

Writing the check for my taxes gave me pause to think how fortunate I am to be here in Milwaukee, where I know that thousands of people in this community have somewhere to turn when they need careers and family-sustaining jobs.

Michael L. Burke, PhD, is MATC president.

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