MATC Students in Demand, Striving for Success
Last month’s vigorous debate over and subsequent approval of Senate Bill 275 during the legislative session will lead to both a new board composition and a new appointment process for the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) District Board. That debate also included several mischaracterizations that demand a reasoned response.
An accusation was leveled that MATC graduates are not as good as those of our neighboring colleges. No facts were offered as proof, just rumors heard on the wind. The actual facts belie this criticism. According to a 2009-2010 Graduate Follow-Up Report, 89% of MATC’s graduates were employed or furthering their education within six months of graduating from MATC. The plain, simple facts prove that local employers seek our graduates: 71% are employed within the MATC district and 97% are employed in Wisconsin. To throw thousands of MATC graduates under the bus to support a legislative agenda is, to put it mildly, bad public policy.
Attacking our students is particularly galling, especially when you actually know them. In daily conversations with my students, I find they are working diligently to earn associate degrees or technical diplomas, or are seeking additional industry certification to solidify their employment in these tumultuous times. Many students are parents who work so they can support their families and attend college on a part-time basis. They come to MATC to improve their lot in life, and they should be admired rather than scorned.
Also repeated in Madison was the familiar refrain that MATC’s relationship with area businesses needs improvement and the college needs to be more responsive. I am committed to strengthening our business partnerships, but am troubled by these accusations because they seem to ignore the facts. For decades, the college has partnered with hundreds of local business leaders (over 800 at last count) who volunteer to serve on our advisory committees in each of our degree and diploma programs. These advisory committee members are on the front line when it comes to making recommendations about curriculum and the industry skills needed for the workplace of tomorrow. Generally speaking, the broader the paintbrush one uses, the sloppier the paint job, and to paint this community’s technical college in such broad strokes is, at best, sloppy.
Finally, the MATC District Board and the college’s administration (me included, I presume) have been called dysfunctional. While I may be mistaken, it seems to me that the college’s Moody’s Aa1, or very strong, bond rating speaks for itself. Despite dramatic cuts in state aid (now at 9% of the total college revenue), we have a healthy fund balance and continue to add new programs of study for our 47,000+ students. Perhaps we, as a community, need to work on our definition of “dysfunctional.”
I suspect that in today’s politically-charged climate we have become inured to inaccurate, “pants-on-fire” statements. I invite anyone who is interested in improving MATC to visit our campuses, classrooms, and labs, where true innovation occurs, and meet with our students, faculty, and business partners. Sitting in judgment from afar and making sweeping (and inaccurate, I submit) statements about our students and the college is no longer acceptable, in my humble opinion.
MATC was founded as 100 years ago as the school for the “forgotten children of Milwaukee” who were not protected by child labor laws. Sadly, a century later, there are still “forgotten children” in our midst who see a technical college education as a pathway to a better life. I submit we could all benefit by addressing the larger, systemic issues in Milwaukee. At the end of the day, and at the end of the legislative session, we remain America’s fourth-most impoverished city.