Wisconsin Technical Colleges See Enrollment Surge

Every Wisconsin technical college saw an enrollment increase in the 2021-2022 school year.
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  • Enrollment at Wisconsin technical colleges increased by 10.3% during the 2021-2022 academic year, according to a report.
  • Enrollment fell sharply during the earlier days of the pandemic.
  • Enrollment has largely been on the decline at Wisconsin technical colleges over the past decade.
  • The 10% increase is the largest seen in more than a decade across the state's technical college system.

Wisconsin technical colleges saw a 10.3% enrollment increase during the 2021-2022 academic year, marking a shift from enrollment declines that predated the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of Wisconsin's 16 technical colleges saw enrollment increases during the 2021-2022 school year, according to a report from the Wisconsin Technical College System. Overall, enrollment in the system increased to 274,203 for the 2021-2022 school year, a 10.3% climb over the previous year.

Those enrollment climbs come after a steep drop in enrollment during the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic: Enrollment decreased from 286,381 in the 2019-2020 school year to 248,534 in the 2020-2021 school year.

Wisconsin's technical colleges center around offering "relevant, high-value credentials; customized instruction and technical assistance; dual credit for high school students; Adult Education instruction and English Language Learning; and transfer opportunities for those pursuing a four-year degree," the report reads.

That mission also includes maintaining close relationships with local employers to meet workforce needs, according to the report.

Despite the key role these colleges play in workforce development, however, enrollment has steadily declined over the past decade: Enrollment across the system stood at more than 360,000 for the 2012-2013 academic year, and increased only once during the 2017-2018 school year before the most recent dramatic rise.

Amid a nationwide scramble to close the skills gap and train workers in emerging technical fields, government officials and major employers have increasingly looked to community and technical colleges as an avenue for workforce development.

Students often look to trade schools and technical colleges for job stability and high salary potential, BestColleges previously reported.

Wisconsin voters recently reaffirmed their support for technical colleges, with voters in the area around Moraine Park Technical College approving a $55 million bond initiative during the November election to improve the college's learning spaces and shore up local workforce needs.

Large employers have also taken an interest in some of the state's technical colleges.

The Pepsico Foundation earlier this year announced a $500,000 donation to the Milwaukee Area Technical College as part of its Uplift Scholarship program for historically underserved students. That program will benefit a total of 160 Black and Hispanic and Latino/a students over two years with $2,000 scholarships.