A Senate committee held a public information hearing Wednesday to address education initiatives in the state and look at the issue of meeting workforce needs.
The Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges, chaired by Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, heard from members of the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System as well as members from the Wisconsin Technical College System Board. The committee also heard a report by the Special Task Force on UW Restructuring and Operational Flexibilities.
“Higher education is an important part of moving people into the workforce,” Harsdorf said. “We have a great university and technical college system and one we want to maintain to make sure people of all ages in our state have opportunities to further and better themselves.”
The informational hearing focused on a report introduced by Michael Falbo, UW System Board of Regents vice president and task force chair.
The task force was created to make recommendations on improving flexibilities for the UW System, which has been faced with scrutiny recently after losing more than $34 million during its changes to a new Human Resource payroll system.
“It’s not one of our high moments,” Falbo said when Harsdorf questioned him about the incident and ensuing audit. “The only confidence I’d like you to have in this right now is the confidence that we’re working on it with all the resources necessary to fix it. I’m not sure that fix means we’ll uncover all of the dollars, but it does mean it will never happen again.”
On behalf of the task force’s report, Falbo outlined a separate pay plan for faculty and staff at UW-Madison seeking to give the university more autonomy. He said the Board of Regents should keep its primary governing authority over all UW institutions, but chancellors should also be able to create advisory boards.
Falbo said the Board of Regents is working hard to keep tuition down by making a four year degree more attainable and looking to expand online courses. The information hearing concluded by identifying these proposed flexibilities as “the beginning of a dialogue,” as Harsdorf put it.
The public hearing in turn focused on ways in which the Wisconsin Technical College System and UW System can work on meeting workforce needs in a rapidly evolving job market.
Philip Baranowski, WTCS board member, said businesses and schools need to compromise and form partnerships. He said the board has been reviewing the courses their schools offer, emphasizing the WTCS’s goal to train for specific placement.
Stephen Willett, WTCS board member, said the WTCS needs to integrate high schools and technical colleges, providing a seamless process in which students can gain valuable skills at a young age and develop those skills over time. The jobs that will be offered in 2025, for instance, have not yet been created, Willett said.
“Our challenge is to recognize that our economy is changing,” Willett said. “And the way we deliver education is changing.”
The goal of education now, according to Willett, is to create a joint partnership with businesses as early as possible in order to provide the smoothest transition from schooling to workforce. He said it is the responsibility of WTCS and any other educational system to make sure the degrees they offer fit available jobs.