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Nicolet College - Tech colleges meet record demand for service, but financial aid short


Technical colleges meet record demand for service,
but financial aid shortage threatens continued student access


MADISON – Wisconsin’s technical colleges are projecting enrollment to exceed 80,000 full time equivalent (FTE) students this year, or a 14.6 percent increase over last year’s historic levels. This growth is not only significant in its overall size, but also because it is occurring throughout the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS).

According to System President Dan Clancy, last year’s 5 percent System wide enrollment growth was due, in large part, to significant increases at four colleges. This year, 14 of the 16 colleges are estimating increases of over 10 percent and half of the colleges are estimating increases of 15 percent or more in FTE enrollment.

“The rise in dislocated workers is a factor, but it is not the only reason technical college enrollments are growing. We have experienced a steady rise throughout the decade, even before the current economic crisis,” stated Clancy. “Affordability, flexibility, high placement rates and wages for graduates, employers’ demand for new and increased skills, along with a changing job landscape are all factors in the enrollment growth colleges are experiencing this year.”

An FTE equals 30 credits of enrollment. Since the majority of WTCS students attend part-time, a typical FTE represents multiple students.

Enrollment growth signifies a changing public perception about the value and benefits of technical college education and training programs, but it also creates student access and college operational challenges. The Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board is estimating that over 15,000 eligible WTCS students will not receive state Wisconsin Higher Education grants (WHEG) because grant funds are already depleted. This number is more than double the over 6,000 WTCS students who were eligible but did not receive WHEG funding last year because of inadequate funding.

For the colleges, large enrollment growth has required creative and flexible programming decisions and prioritization of available resources because tuition revenues only cover about 20 percent of college operational costs. Access is also affected by capacity limits in classroom space and clinical/internship opportunities. It is also likely to affect use of WTCS online options. Last year, more than 45,000 students enrolled in WTCS online courses, accounting for nearly 11 percent of all credit hours taken.

“The economy is also affecting enrollments at other Wisconsin colleges and universities, but not nearly to the same extent as the effect on technical colleges throughout the state,” stated Stan Davis, President of the Technical College System governing Board. “I believe the technical colleges’ historically strong relationship with local employers translates into cutting edge curriculum and delivery methods, which is attractive to 21st century learners, both returning adults and new high school graduates.”

The Wisconsin Technical College System has 16 technical college districts throughout Wisconsin, which offer more than 300 programs awarding two-year associate degrees, one and two-year technical diplomas and short-term technical diplomas. In addition, the System is the major provider of customized training and technical assistance to Wisconsin’s business and industry community. Approximately 400,000 Wisconsinites enroll in technical colleges each year. More than half of all adults in Wisconsin have accessed the technical colleges for education and training. Find more about educational programs at