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Dean Says NWTC Among Top 10 Technical Colleges

“In recent years we’ve been among the top 10 technical colleges in the nation in terms of student achievement and one day we’ll be number one,” Northeast Technical College (NWTC) Dean Jeff Rafn told Marinette County Board Tuesday, Feb. 26 as he described steps the school has taken to improve student success rates, train prospective employees for good jobs, expand services to rural areas, and offer training to local governments, businesses and industries, particularly in the “LEAN” process.

Rafn said the high technical college drop out rates of the past “ simply will not work in a society where almost no one will be employed without education beyond high school.” He said today’s automated process in manufacturing industries require higher levels of skills than jobs of the past, which explains why there is a high unemployment rate while employers offering good jobs face a shortage of workers.

The problem, he said, “is that workers who have been laid off do not have the skills the new processes require.”

He said in the past there have been too many technical school drop outs and added, “As a society, we cannot have all these people leaving without completing their education.” He explained the LEAN process by which NWTC has made its curriculum more effective and efficient.

They have academic advisors who identify students who need help, and have decided to require them to take developmental courses before going on to other studies. They give financial aid to engage tutors and take the remedial courses, and the results have been excellent. As an example, he said, students have gone from a 64 percent pass rate in remedial algebra to 82 percent, and success in other courses is comparable.

They also have narrowed courses to allow students to focus on career goals, which has improved the overall student success rate.

Stressing the need to stay connected with the people the school serves, Rafn said he and his staff will have community visits in Marinette, Crivitz and Niagara to talk with people about what they like and do not like about NWTC.

Thanks to the recent changes in state laws, Rafn said, “We have moved from a highly restrictive union environment to a more collegiate negotiations method....This is a huge cultural change...The staff no longer gets raises based on seniority and degrees... Now compensation is based solely on performance.”

He said despite anxiety caused by the changes, “I’m extremely proud of the way our board has handled this and the way our employees have handled this... Our employees have stood by us and remained focused on the Number One concern - the education of our students!”

Staff now contribute 15 percent of their health insurance premium costs and modified rules for extra compensation for teaching extra classes is saving NWTC about $1.5 million a year, Rafn reported.

He said the NWTC tax levy for Marinette County dropped slightly from last year while services improved.

One of the major changes in recent years has been expanding technical education to rural schools, starting with the highly successful Northwoods Technical Academy at Wausaukee, and soon to expand to other areas, including a collaboration between NWTC and Florence, Goodman and Niagara school districts, and a similar collaboration in southern Oconto County.

Through those programs students can earn increased amounts of dual credits that count toward both high school graduation and technical college degrees, saving time and money for students and their families. Schools provide the space and NWTC is able to provide equipment that local school districts cannot afford, Rafn explained.

The Wausaukee Technical Academy started with a welding program and now has been expanded to include health care skills, design graphics, business and engineering technology.

“This is a booming area,” Rafn said of Marinette County, and the City of Marinette in particular. NWTC is the primary trainer of Marinette Marine employees, he said, and predicted that the training and educating of people to work in local industries will continue to grow in Marinette County, not only for Marinette Marine, but also for other manufacturers. Training for medical careers will also be expanded in the near future.

Rafn said there are emerging markets in this area, and the NWTC goal is to be sure every student has the skills to fill one of them. “We will grow your businesses and we will grow your communities and improve the quality of life here in Marinette County,” Rafn pledged.

He said NWTC is part-owner of the building adjacent to Marinette Marine where their workers are currently trained by NWTC staff, but in the near future the school intends to use the rest of the building to expand the manufacturing related training.

Asked by Supervisor Ted Sauve if the building on Main Street (adjacent to Marinette Marine) was a duplication of services, Rafn said it was not, “it’s an expansion of services.” He said the focus there is on welding, machining and some electrical work and pipe fitting, mainly but not entirely of the sort needed in the ship building industry. He said they did not have room at the campus on Roosevelt Road for all the equipment needed to fulfill their $1.8 million contract with Marinette Marine. NWTC does the initial employee screening for Marinette Marine and then handles employee training. Students at the Main Street facility can earn degrees in Marine Ship Construction and Marine Ship Engineering. He said they plan to expand offerings at both buildings, and to provide new programs, not duplicates.

Supervisor Nick Lakari asked how the performance standards will rate instructors, and Rafn explained in part their performance will be “very much outcome based,” judged on the number of their students who succeed at getting jobs, and then succeed at doing those jobs. They will look at where the students start and where they end up, in terms of knowledge and skills; how much interchange students seek with the instructor, and how much effort the instructor puts into learning new technologies and improving teaching skills.

Supervisor Mike Cassidy was happy to learn NWTC is working with Goodman, Florence and Niagara, and expressed hope that with some employability skills more young people will be able to stay in the area. He said right now almost all high school students leave after graduation, and getting even 10 percent of them to stay in the community would be an improvement.

Cassidy also expressed appreciation for computer training he and some other senior citizens had taken at Niagara.

He also expressed a wish that unemployment compensation checks would be tied to learning new skills. He told of a young lady whose two years of unemployment was coming to an end, and she didn’t know what she was going to do, since she still had no job. He said it is almost too late now, but she should have used her time on unemployment to learn skills that would have helped her to get a good job.

To questions from Supervisor Bill Walker, Rafn said the average of NWTC students is 26 or 27, and some 60 percent are between the ages of 18 and 30.

Supervisor Ken Keller was impressed with the statistics for Marinette County. He was told within about four years after completing high school, some 40 percent of Marinette County residents have taken at least one NWTC course.

Taxes levied in Marinette County to support NWTC decreased 2.09 percent last year, or $123,392.

There are currently 108 students at NWTC who graduated from Marinette County high schools in 2011, and 25.47 percent of county graduates have taken some courses. Overall, 3,551, or 10.6 percent of the total Marinette County population, or approximately one of every nine citizens, have taken NWTC courses.

Enrollment at the Marinette campuses has grown dramatically over the past 13 years, from 261.92 full time equivalent students in 2000 to 449.84 in 2012. The Center is also involved in the jail GED program, which celebrated 100 graduates this summer; operates a volunteer income tax assistance program in partnership with the IRS and Tri City United Way, and, also in partnership with Tri City United Way, offers free health care screenings for children.

At the Central Regional Center in Crivitz, which opened in 2003 and had 46.31 students the following year, there are now 82.01 full time equivalent students. The center is also involved in the award winning high school partnership among Wausaukee, Crivitz and Pembine high schools.

Laurie Davidson, who represents Marinette County on the NWTC governing board and serves as its treasurer, has been a trustee since 1990. She was proud to have been part of the team that hired Dr. Rafn, and said she is pleased with the progress since then, when “there was only one computer in the school, and that was on the dean’s desk...and he only knew how to do e-mail.”

She invited anyone with questions or concerns about NWTC to contact her or Marinette Campus Dean Pat O’Hara. The Marinette Campus offers nine associate degrees, 10 technical diplomas, two apprenticeship programs and 20 certificate programs. In the past two years several new offerings, including business management, physical therapist assistant, marine construction, and marine engineering technician programs have been added in Marinette.


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