Budget Watch: Technical Colleges

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Budget Watch: Technical Colleges

Premiere Date: 
April 25, 2013

Zac Schultz examines funding for technical colleges in Gov. Walker's budget proposal.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Zac Schultz:

In 2010, Marinette Marine was close to securing a contract to build 10 littoral combat ships for the US Navy.

Jeffrey Rafn:

One of the key questions that the Navy had, was, well, would you be able to find the workforce to build the ships?

Zac Schultz:

Marinette Marine came to Dr. Jeffrey Rafn, president of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and together they converted an old Goodwill warehouse into the hub of job creation in the area.

Jeffrey Rafn:

It was that very specific need that, hey, we need to demonstrate a workforce, that we said, you know what? If you put those–  this contract here, we will build a training center.

Zac Schultz:

Marinette Marine got the contract and since opening in February of 2012, the North Coast Marine Manufacturing Training Center has provided 92,000 hours of training for welders, electricians and shipfitters.

Chuck Goddard:

When I got here a year and a half ago, we're a little over 850 employees. We're now at 1400.

Zac Schultz:

Chuck Goddard is president, CEO and general manager of Marinette Marine. The Navy contract requires them to deliver two ships a year, and he says they didn't have the time, space or ability to train a new workforce.

Chuck Goddard:

We're not professional instructors. We're really fortunate here in Wisconsin to have NWTC which, they are professional instructors.

Teacher:

I can't say enough about it, it's just amazing. The quality of workmanship is second to none.

Zac Schultz:

Students range from experienced new hires taking a refresher course to raw kids straight out of high school. The work spaces are designed to replicate the conditions of welding on a ship, with tight spaces and limited sightlines. Marinette Marine likes the fact the training center is across the street from their shipyard.

Steve Baue:

We can come up here. Sometimes a couple times a day we can actually meet the students as they're going through the programs. We can talk to the instructors about who's really standing out in a class.

Zac Schultz:

Current employees are able to go back for more training in order to advance their career.

Jason Denzine:

When I first started it was kind of a refresher course in the beginning, but as I progressed, they tend to teach you new things, as in different types of welding, different techniques of welding.

Zac Schultz:

Dr. Rafn says the training center benefits go beyond Marinette Marine. Other companies are sending their workers to learn new skills.

Chuck Goddard:

It is truly a partnership and they're always working with us in making sure that the curriculum is meeting their standards, but also the curriculum is reflecting what is happening on the marketplace.

Zac Schultz:

This partnership between a major employer and a technical college is something Governor Scott Walker would like to see replicated across the state. To encourage that, he's using his budget to shift state aid to technical colleges towards performance based funding.

Scott Walker:

We want them to work towards matching students with the skills needed to fill the jobs of today, and more importantly, tomorrow.

Zac Schultz:

With performance-based funding, state aid to technical colleges would be distributed based on how each school performs in a handful of metrics. Governor Walker's budget proposal would focus on things like job placement rates, degrees and certificates awarded in high-demand fields and training provided to employers.

Morna Foy:

I know people are a little nervous and uncertain and we all are, because this is a new thing.

Zac Schultz:

Morna Foy is president of the Wisconsin Technical Colleges System. She says their board actually proposed performance-based funding to the governor, but they weren't expecting it to happen so quickly. Under Governor Walker's proposal, in the second year of the budget 10% of state aid would be distributed based on performance measures. That would increase by 10% each year until 100% of state aid is performance-based by 2019.

Morna Foy:

I think the governor has put forward a pretty aggressive timeline that other states took more time to get to a 100% funding.

Zac Schultz:

Foy says the key to making performance-based funding work is finding out what exactly to measure to determine if the technical colleges are performing.

Morna Foy:

In order for us to have institutional buy-in and faculty buy-in, we need to make sure that we are measuring things that are of importance to them. They all want to do good work. We also don't want to do things that are going to have unintended consequences.

Zac Schultz:

Everybody want to avoid unintended consequences .

John Klenke:

We need to make sure that the folks that are overseeing it have the capability to make modifications, to make adjustments, to say performance funding is working here but it's not working over there.

Luther Olsen:

Otherwise, we measure something, we get it, but it may not be what is best for the citizens of our state of Wisconsin.

Zac Schultz:

The concern is if the performance-based funding focuses too much on the trades, opportunities could dry up for students who attend a technical college with plans to transfer.

Terrance Webb:

We're hoping that as these measures are developed, that they recognize the importance of having a gateway to a four-year education.

Zac Schultz:

Terrance Webb is the provost at Madison Area Technical College. Last year 11,000 students, 28% of their student body, were planning to transfer to a four-year university. Their success would not be recognized under the governor's guidelines. Webb says many students take both skills training and transfer courses to keep their options open.

Terrance Webb:

The two aims are not either/or propositions. They’re both and.

Zac Schultz:

But some lawmakers feel like the technical colleges have strayed from their origins.

John Nygren:

The reason they were formed was to create an opportunity for basically school-to-work type programs. I think there's been a little bit of a mission creep over the years going towards more liberal arts and more other type of offerings than the trades.

Morna Foy:

Providing collegiate transfer and liberal arts programs is actually a part of our statutory mission.

Zac Schultz:

Morna Foy says keeping general education college classes available for all students will help create more jobs. The best example may be in this welding class at Madison College. Most students who finish this course will either get a job in the field or go on for more skills training.

Tony Stute:

There's always a couple that, once they get into career programming, that entrepreneurial seed is kind of sparked for them.

Zac Schultz:

Program instructor Tony Stute says those students can take basic accounting classes and be ready to open their own business.

Tony Stute:

They go and see a banker, that's one of the first things they ask is, do you have a business plan? Do you have any background in business management?

Zac Schultz:

Ironically, instead of unintended consequences, another potential flaw in performance-based funding is that state aid shared by the 16 technical colleges may not be big enough to influence the changes Governor Walker wants to see. That's because most of their budget comes from property taxes and tuition.

Morna Foy:

State aid has been declining for many years. So now it is a roughly 10%, for some of our colleges even less.

Zac Schultz:

In his first budget, Governor Walker cut state aid to the tech schools by 30%. With a systemwide operating budget of more than $1 billion, the 16 technical colleges currently split just $83 million dollars in state aid. The governor would increase that by $5 million next year.

Dave Hansen:

But it's just such a minimal sum compared to what he cut last time.

Zac Schultz:

Senator Dave Hansen and the Democrats have been arguing for more funding for tech colleges since 2011.

Dave Hansen:

We're talking here $5 million. In the last budget, 72 million was cut from the tech schools. So however that is implemented, it's got to be fair.

Zac Schultz:

For now, the technical college leaders think even a small increase in funding will help.

Jeffrey Rafn:

I think that's enough to incent in certain areas, but it's not so much that it's going to warp, if you will, the mission of the colleges.

Zac Schultz:

Finding that balance in performance-based funding could help create more relationships like the one in Marinette.

Steve Baue:

It was a willingness to sit down with the heads of NWTC and say listen, here's the problem that we need to solve, and here's how we think it can be beneficial to both of us.

Zac Schultz:

System president Morna Foy hopes as the schools demonstrate performance, the funding will follow.

Morna Foy:

As more of our general aid money is distributed this way, there will be more general aid money to distribute. That was the purpose for suggesting a performance funding mechanism in the first place.


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