Gov. Scott Walker’s workforce development plan could mean a new help center for La Crosse businesses and more college classes in high-demand fields.
Walker’s $100 million proposal, announced earlier this week, creates a pot of strings-attached money for colleges to improve educational options for training skilled workers.
Officials at Western Technical College and the University of Wisconsin praised the plan, but also said it’s not clear yet how local campuses will benefit.
“I think that legislators like to see that funding gets tied to particular programs that can be helpful to the state,” UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow said. “The issue for us, though, is that, while there’s that so-called new money, are we getting funding to keep doing the basic things that we need to do?”
Even with extra money for training skilled workers, there are other budget issues that need addressing at UW-L, which, like all UW schools, is in the midst of a salary freeze, Gow said.
For UW schools, Walker’s plans include:
- $20 million for “incentive” grants for training skilled workers or spurring economic development.
- $2 million for UW’s flexible degree program, which gives students a chance to learn at their own pace, online.
For technical colleges:
- $5 million extra in general aid.
- $22 million of existing funds for expanding training programs in industries with a growing workforce.
“It’s trying to match the money up for something that would aid local businesses,” said Brent Smith, president of the UW Board of Regents.
UW-L wants at least $1 million of the state’s money for a new center to help local businesses grow and become sustainable.
The university’s business college would house the Center for Entrepreneurship, Sustainability and International Trade.
The center would give internship opportunities to students, and teach local companies how to take full advantage of today’s marketplace, UW-L officials say.
“At a core level it’s really what steps can be taken so that businesses become essentially more sustainable,” said Anne Hlavacka, UW-L’s director of small business development.
With the increase in general aid to technical colleges, Western could also benefit.
“We would like to ramp up some of the programs where there is significant occupational demand,” Western President Lee Rasch said.
However, most of the funds for technical colleges in Walker’s plan already exist.
An extra $5 million in general aid, when spread out between all of Wisconsin’s technical colleges, might not leave much for Western, Rasch said.
However, Walker’s plans allow for more flexibility with the state dollars. That may give Western the chance to add classes and training programs relevant to local employers, but Rasch said he’s still waiting for more details.
“I can only speculate,” Rasch said.
Walker’s proposal rides the coattails of a demographic shift in students, Smith said.
“The average age is higher,” Smith said. “They’re working. They have families.”
Older students are often dubbed “non-traditional,” but Smith said he’s been calling this growing population of students by another name: “Post-traditional.”
These students are also more interested in a degree that helps them land a job. Walker’s plan could help colleges meet the growing demand for such practicality, Smith said.
“You really, here, are seeing an evolution of our universities,” Smith said. “And our technical colleges.”