From a guest column by Dr. John Clark, president of Mid-State Technical College, in The Sheboygan Press:

Last month, more than 400 students graduated from Mid-State Technical College at ceremonies in Wisconsin Rapids, Marshfield and Stevens Point. Although locally and nationally, we are struggling in many areas of our economy, I am confident that graduates have made one of the best investments available in today’s world by investing in their education. The value of their degree will provide lifelong returns in multiple ways.

There is a growing recognition that Wisconsin’s Technical Colleges provide the critical foundation for the kind of broad-based work force development system that is needed to meet industry demand for skilled talent. I can attest that the quality of MSTC graduates is consistent and impressive. The primary reason individuals attend one of Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges is career preparation. They know the experience will provide them an excellent opportunity for a great job or an enhanced career.

Enrollment in associate degree programs, technical diplomas, certificate offerings and custom training typically mirrors the economy. As unemployment increases, more individuals turn to us for education and training. Technical college enrollment growth has been particularly notable in areas of Wisconsin hard hit by layoffs, such as at Blackhawk Technical College, serving the Janesville area, and here at MSTC. Both colleges have experienced double-digit increases in enrollment during the past year.

At the same time, we’ve been working closely with area employers to make sure that our programs are relevant. For example, some of the federal stimulus money anticipated to be received by technical colleges will be used to develop curriculum focusing on energy and utilities, conservation and construction. Creating a work force with these skills will help pave the way for the growth of green businesses. Here in Wisconsin Rapids, we’re pleased to be an educational partner with Energy Composites Corp. as it plans for a wind turbine factory.

Throughout Wisconsin, technical college leaders are looking closely at the field of green and renewable energy. Utility work in general has been a strong area of demand. People are being hired in electrical power distribution where there is a need for increased transmission capacity and system upgrades.