Wisconsin’s unemployed workers are enrolling in the state’s 16 technical colleges in record numbers, stretching the Wisconsin Technical College System's (WTCS) capacity to the breaking point.
Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), the WTCS's largest institution, is currently experiencing a 27% increase in enrollment.
The states other 15 technical colleges have experienced similar record enrollment increases, led by Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville, home of the a closed GM manufacturing plant, which led all tech colleges last year with a 21.5% increase and an astounding 42% over the last two years.
Record enrollments are being driven by dislocated workers and veterans seeking retraining and because the relatively low cost of technical colleges is attractive to all students.
On Saturday the Milwaukee Journal Journal highlighted MATC's work retraining laid off Midwest Airline pilots.
With unemployment projected to remain stubbornly high into 2012 and a record number of long-term unemployed, tech colleges anticipate that enrollment increases will continue. 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.
In an effort to accommodate the influx of students, technical colleges have added increased sections, expanded evening, weekend and on-line courses, increased student pupil ratios, relaxed enrollment deadlines and waived application and other fees for dislocated workers
Many programs at MATC and other tech colleges are now at capacity, despite running day and night and on weekends. Waiting lists are growing.
The Obama administration recognized the key role tech colleges play in helping the economy and the nation's workers recover when it appropriated $12 billion for two -year college education and training.
But there is a catch. Federal training dollars in the America's Graduation Initiative require a local match. Once the bill passes the United States Senate early next year, it will be up to Governor Doyle and the democratically controlled Wisconsin Legislature to appropriate additional funds so that Wisconsin qualifies for these federal training dollars.
State Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine) has authored legislation, the Wisconsin Jobs Initiative, that would appropriate $145 million and generate a $135 million federal match. The bill provides enough funds to train an additional 40,000 Wisconsin workers. Milwaukee's Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) is the second lead on the bill which has been endorsed by 18 additional legislators and the Wisconsin Technical College Boards Association.
When the Legislature reconvenes after the holidays it is critical that it pass this legislation. Otherwise, the doors of opportunity will begin to close on Wisconsin's dislocated workers.