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Our view: Western referendum deserves support

Written By The La Crosse Tribune Editorial Board
Courtesy of the La Crosse Tribune
August 26th, 2012

Full story also found on La Crosse Tribune website

Western Technical College is a textbook example of how your taxpayer dollars pay off for developing a quality, educated workforce in the 7 Rivers Region.

That’s why Western’s upcoming referendum deserves support.

First, let’s look at Western’s return on investment.

Is there demand? One of every three high school graduates in western Wisconsin attends Western within three years of graduating. More than 16,000 people are taking a class or seminar at Western — and half of those are seeking degrees. And enrollment has increased 14 percent in the past five years.

Is there success? An incredible 93 percent of Western grads are employed within six months of graduation, and 1,400 Western grads enter the workforce each year. Eighty-five percent of them stay in Wisconsin to work, and 81 percent remain in the 7 Rivers Region. For instance, nearly a fourth of the employees of Logistics Health Inc. in La Crosse are Western grads.

Is there earning power? After five years in the workplace, a survey indicates that the salaries of Western grads have risen 58 percent because of promotion or job change. We’re guessing that most of you aren’t earning 58 percent more than you were five years ago — another example of return on investment.

Western will ask the residents in its 11-county district in western Wisconsin to approve a $79.8 million referendum in the November election to pay for needed building and program improvement.

The tax impact is $39 per year per $100,000 of assessed valuation for up to 20 years.

We think it’s a wise investment for a variety of reasons.

The project will generate an estimated $112 million in economic activity, create more than 900 jobs and generate $3.4 million in tax revenue by the time the project is completed by 2016.

The last Western-focused referendum was 20 years ago, when voters approved upgrades to district campuses in Independence, Mauston, Tomah and Viroqua, as well as the Academic Resource Center in La Crosse.

Western also sought and received voter approval in 1996 to become part of the Health Science Center collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Viterbo University, Gundersen Lutheran and Mayo-Franciscan.

Since then, campus facilities in Tomah and Black River Falls have moved to downtown locations, and other regional facilities in the district have been expanded or upgraded in the past few years.

The La Crosse facilities are a much different — and much older — story. One facility, the Coleman Center, has served the college for 90 of Western’s 100 years.

Education and energy efficiency have changed a great deal since then, regardless of all the times Coleman has been updated.

Western’s 2020 vision would upgrade four buildings in La Crosse; add a parking ramp and a greenhouse (replacing a rented facility).

Those upgrades greatly improve energy efficiency.

That doesn’t just save on the utility bill — no small deal. It also provides a learning laboratory for students learning operation of modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Just as important, the upgraded facilities provide the space needed for the types of team teaching that businesses are looking for in today’s economy. For instance: Western wants to develop occupational centers where mechanical design students work together with machine tool students and welding students to produce a product in a real-world setting.

Western administrators and instructors are working together to develop programs that will be easier for working adults to enroll in — more flexible scheduling at night and during weekends.

A trimester system, for instance, will provide opportunities for some students to finish in 18 months. It also allows health care students time for practical experience in clinical sites during low-demand periods in the summer.

We encourage you to learn more about Western’s Vision 2020 program and its proposed referendum.

Published on August 26th, 2012