Signing off…

Well, this is my 207th blog post.  And, it is my final blog post.

After more than 60,000 words, it’s time to bring “From My Perspective” to a close.  It’s been a pleasure sharing some of my experiences, observations, ideas, and perspectives with you over the years as the president of Fox Valley Technical College.  I’ve always said that I could never live long enough to tell all the great stories of this organization, its people, and our many wonderful students and employer partners.  New stories, new developments, and new ideas emerge here each and every day!

The College is well-positioned for the future and our leaders are ready to tackle the challenges and opportunities ahead.  It feels good to be able to leave an organization that is strong and healthy – with the financials, facilities, equipment, technology, processes, partnerships, and staffing in great shape and poised for new levels of service.  And our outstanding governing Board of Trustees will continue to guide the way for making the greatest impact in our communities.

Thank you, dear readers, for your interest and engagement over the years.  Please take a few minutes to view my farewell video message to the College community:

Signing off…

The Importance of Our Incumbent Workforce

Throughout my long career at Fox Valley Technical College, I’ve always stressed the critical importance of our region’s current (or incumbent) workforce.  Why? Because there are far more people active in the workforce at any time than the number of new entrants we and other colleges are preparing.  And when employers experience workforce needs, we can more quickly address immediate needs by upskilling or bringing new skillsets to many of their existing employees.  Wise employers will continuously invest in their incumbent workers, not only to add skills to their organizations, but to build employee loyalty and potentially improve retention.

Because the incumbent workforce is imperative from my perspective, in service to the region the College has placed great emphasis on continuing education, professional seminars and workshops, employee assessment, entrepreneur development, customized training and technical assistance over the last four decades.  In fact, when you look at Fox Valley’s comparative outcomes in the “workforce training” category as one element of our statewide System’s outcomes-based funding, we absolutely “own” this category over any other region of the state.  This particular category includes the amount of work being delivered by colleges in customized training, professional seminars, employer tuition reimbursement activity, and apprenticeship education.

The region’s employers have benefitted greatly from this collaboration over the years.  And often times, companies with a national or global reach gain benefit for their employees locally, but also in other locations.  A remarkable example of this is an entire department we’ve devoted to Supply Chain certification training over the last 15 years, now the largest contracting unit of the College.  We work in partnership with the Association for Supply Chain Management in Chicago.  In just the month of April, this team started 20 new cohort courses with almost 300 enrollments in the Supply Chain series.  What’s really interesting, though, is that employees from Novartis, GSK, Northrop Grumman, Collins Aerospace, Regeneron, Micron Technology, Milwaukee Valve, Dupont and Johnson & Johnson are taking these courses from 36 different countries around the world!  And the investment these employers make in training also comes back to the Fox Valley as economic impact.  Typically, local employers are in this mix as well and today’s supply chain is clearly worldwide.

I know some employers can be hesitant about investing in the continuing education of their workers and I know there are examples of employees then leaving and taking their new skills with them.  Education and training represent just one element of employee retention.  But with the demographics of our population and growing skills shortages, I believe it is worth the risk and a critically important workforce strategy.  What do you think?   

A Few Thoughts About Free Community College

We’ve been hearing for years now about the possibility of federal legislation that would provide for “free community college,” or two years of tuition-free post-secondary education at community and technical colleges across the country. Let me start with a fun fact: the institutional underpinnings of what is today Fox Valley Technical College dates all the way back to 1912 and it wasn’t until 1975 when students were charged tuition to attend. So there were many decades of our history when there was no student tuition. Everything old is new again! For most good jobs and longer-term career opportunities some type of post-secondary education beyond high school is important – whether a certificate/diploma, apprenticeship, associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or graduate degree. While employers look for general attributes in candidates, they’re also looking for individuals with some type of specialized skillsets at a depth or level that typically requires post-secondary education.

To be competitive as a state and as a nation, we simply must continue to build the expertise of our workforce and the intent behind free community college comes from that realization. So, from my perspective, this is well-intended and there’s little question about the need for educational attainment. And this proposal would certainly be very beneficial to students, although we need to remind ourselves that tuition is just one part of a student’s cost to attend college.

However, as the old saying goes, “the devil’s in the details.” There is much to watch for on this front, including unintended consequences.

  • If the federal government requires a state match of any kind in such an initiative, I think it’s unlikely that the Wisconsin Legislature would support it.
  • How would this funding level be determined when there are vast cost of attendance differences among community and technical colleges across the country? For instance, technical college equipment, technology, and the fact that we hire most of our faculty and staff from their respective industries/occupations result in far higher operating costs than a typical community college.
  • Would this funding flow directly to institutions or to students?
  • Would this actually attract more students? We’ve found that our Foundation’s College Promise program for low-income students and families (which covers tuition and more) has simply not been subscribed to by recent high school graduates at near the numbers we’d like to see.
  • How would this impact students’ choices in programs or colleges and will those choices better align with the real employment needs of communities?

See what I mean? The devil is in the details and we will all need to stay tuned should this well-intended concept develop further.