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Tech colleges 'bright spot' in workforce report

MADISON – The recently released State of Working Wisconsin 2008 report documents economic growth in Wisconsin as “soft” resulting from job losses, higher unemployment and declining median incomes, but credits Wisconsin’s Technical Colleges for impacting the state’s workforce. 

Currently, Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College has 3,572 undergraduate students enrolled at its four campuses, an increase of more than 5 percent from this time last year. Approximately 55 percent of those undergraduate students are enrolled in an associate degree program.

 The Center on Wisconsin Strategy report indicates, “Wisconsin’s associate degrees, especially our occupational associate degrees, offer a very strong payoff for the workers who hold them.”  

 According to the report, Wisconsin’s residents who hold occupational associate degrees from Wisconsin’s Technical Colleges have stronger earnings than their national counterparts, with a median income of $18.18 per hour.  This is $1 higher than the national median and $2 more than it was two years prior. 

 “The economic and social contributions the technical colleges make to our state are immense,” said Brent Smith, president of the Wisconsin Technical College System Board. “You can’t overstate the impact the colleges have on both personal earnings and the state’s economy. This is a critical point when considering where to invest our state’s limited dollars to get the best return.”

 The report also touts 10 percent of Wisconsin’s workforce holds an occupational associate degree, which is twice the national average and third nationally. 

  “Wisconsin’s reputation continues as having one of the premiere technical college systems in the country,” said Dan Clancy, president of the Wisconsin Technical College System. “Wisconsin’s transition into a high-tech economy extends the demand for occupational associate degrees.”

 According to the report, there is a wealth of untapped potential in Wisconsin. The report cites a skilled worker shortage for many industries with a high number of individuals on the economic sidelines, neither engaged in education nor adequately skilled to fill these high-wage jobs. Earning potential can be dramatic in these industries. Occupational associate degree holders in Wisconsin earn 23 percent more than workers with only a high school education.