Local control continues to be one of the key reasons that technical colleges in Wisconsin have been nimble and entrepreneurial when it comes to responding to the changing needs of business and the work force.

It’s one of the reasons that Western Technical College has been a wonderful community partner.

Consider the Landscape Horticulture Center being developed in La Crosse — a great partnership that responds to community need. Western, the Hillview Urban Agriculture Center, the La Crosse Community Foundation and Mayo Health System-Franciscan Healthcare are collaborating on a facility that will focus on sustainable and fresh, local food.

And consider how Western uses region-specific data, area job projections and feedback from local business advisory committees before launching any new program.

But the proposed state budget would put restrictions on how technical colleges operate — and Western officials fear such restrictions would hurt the school’s ability to serve businesses in Western’s 11-county region.

Western and the state’s Technical College System fear they could lose flexibility and responsiveness with three proposed changes:

Moving data analysis to the Department of Administration — the largest state agency with plenty of other work to do.

Changing the outcomes-based funding from a 30 percent incentive-based program that currently rewards accountability and collaboration.

Implementing a tuition freeze on certain programs — as determined by the Department of Workforce Development — could limit the ability of colleges to respond to high-needs area of training and study.

Western President Lee Rasch fears there will be a loss of local control if local technical colleges can no longer get the information they need in a timely manner, including data for grants, outcomes-based funding and other programs aimed at local accountability.

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He says that if the governor moves beyond the Joint Finance Committee’s established 30 percent performance funding cap to 100 percent, that could leave a $900,000 annual funding hole for Western.

Just to be clear, that loss wouldn’t have a thing to do with performance. It’s simply a dramatic shift in the funding formula. This comes at a time when other states are putting more money into a competitive pool to provide incentive for efficient, effective administration of programs.

Finally, Rasch is concerned that there is no sunset on any partial tuition freeze — and that could mean Western has more problems finding a way to educate students in high-demand fields, such as nursing, where Western already has a waiting list.

“This is restricting what technical colleges can do in meeting the demand of local business,” he said.

And, if you want the perspective of students, Wisconsin Student Government — which represents students throughout the Technical College System — has gone on record opposing a tuition freeze.

The group states that while a tuition freeze may sound good, “but at what cost will it come to the students? If this were to become reality, students would have to wonder if the program they want will be available, if the technology will be up to date, and if they would have to be put on a wait list because the technical college had to let instructors go due to funding issues.”

Once again, there’s a move for more state takeover of our technical colleges.

Once again, the state, the business community, colleges like Western and their students would be far better off — and far more able to adapt to the changing needs of businesses — if state government would stop meddling in a system that is working very well.

If you’re looking for one more measure of how our region values Western, remember that voters overwhelmingly approved a $79.8 million referendum in November 2012 to support new construction and programming.

Western doesn’t need a shorter leash from state bureaucracy.

(1) comment

Terry Nichols

Quit your whining Mr Ratsch, Western has pounded the local property taxpayers in Western's district for years, starting with the passed 79.8 million dollar referendum. It's about time there was some oversight by the state. I don't call it bureaucracy, I call in oversight and accountability. You already have demonstrated mission creep with your two year liberal arts programs competing directly with the 2-year UW System colleges. The state needs to determine whether they want a community college system or a technical college system. WHen it comes to funding at the local level, it's taxation without representation as your local board is appointed, not elected. The ability to borrow millions at the local level and give the local property taxpayers the bill has to stop.

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