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CVTC President: Track Record of Serving Students Will Continue

Standing before eager faculty in the new student commons, CVTC President Bruce Barker rattled off a long list of CVTC’s accomplishments while assuring listeners that he wasn’t wearing “rose-colored glasses” and was well aware of the challenges ahead in light of budget cuts.

Yet Bruce conveyed an optimistic outlook: “If we stay with our values, we’ll do great.”

For 99 years CVTC has helped students learn and become successful community members – “99 years of
providing proven quality education to everyone. Not just gifted and talented, not just the financially able, but everyone. We give the gift of education, which brings out the student’s talent and leads to financial security,” Bruce said.

Last year CVTC served more students than ever, from Neillsville to River Falls, down to Alma and all points in between via face-to face, online, and hybrid courses; live media, and customized training.

Citing the reaccreditation of health care programs, retooling of machine tools and the addition of a second year to the industrial mechanical and welding programs, Bruce said, “Those are all tremendous accomplishments, marks of quality and improvement. They show students and business and industry that we are relevant and that we are needed.”

CVTC is a world-class facility, with some of the best learning labs in the world, a new student commons to improve student life, and more than 500 talented and dedicated employees.

“Plus we have over $60 million dollars, even after state cuts, to spend on education. And that makes today a great day,” Bruce said.

But his pride was tinged with reality. “Let me assure you, my glasses aren’t rose-colored. They’re pretty thick, but they’re not rose-colored … I’m painfully aware of all the challenges and difficulties we had to face last year and will have to face in the future.”

The 30 percent state budget cut has prevented CVTC from growing, purchasing needed equipment, and starting new programs. It has limited CVTC’s ability to provide education for people who wanted to start their careers or who were laid off and needed to reboot their careers.

The tax levy cap that the Legislative set stripped local college boards of authority to make decisions that are best made locally. Boards have done a great job of balancing education needs with taxpayers’ ability to pay, Bruce said. It also penalized colleges like CVTC that stayed under the old cap.

The public debate over collective bargaining rights took partisanship to all-time lows, divided friends, and disrupted schools.

“Many, myself included, believe that the governor’s plan was extreme and the Legislative enactment occurred without much needed debate and reflection. Its passage seemed to be based on party loyalty rather than careful study and consideration.”

But looking to the past can be a dangerous trap.  Look to the future, Bruce said.

“Education may not be broken, but it can be improved, and it must be improved. It’s a vital part of the attempt to crawl out of the recession. Now is the time to improve our product, to increase accessibility and meet the needs of employers.”

Bruce shared comments from a speech made by Nicholas Pinchuk, CEO and president of Snap-on Inc., which had more than $2.9 billion in sales last year.  “When Mr. Pinchuk speaks, people listen.”

Mr. Pinchuk pointed out that during World War II, the U.S. outproduced its enemies, making more bullets, guns, tanks, and airplanes than the rest of the world. “We were able to beat our enemy on the battlefield because we beat them on the assembly line.”

But in this war, the successful CEO said, our best weapon isn’t a bullet or a tank. It’s education.

That’s what CVTC provides, Bruce said. “What our country needs is the world’s best workforce. That’s our job; that’s our mission.”

CVTC needs to get students in and out faster, reducing their debt load when they graduate. It must provide learning on demand, giving students education when, where, and how they need it, in a way that fits their lifestyle.

“It might be a credit that they earn on their iPad, a certificate earned while commuting, a new skill they learn in their company’s training room.”

Traditional learning won’t go away. But learning will be shorter, quicker, smaller, faster. It might not fit the traditional September to May schedule. Eventually nontraditional methods will become the norm.

Partnerships with high schools could give high schoolers the chance to begin their college careers while in high school.

Addressing the issue of less money, Bruce laid out possibilities for maximizing revenue sources: using foundation donations to offer scholarships, fund parts of the operating budget, and purchase land; obtaining more public and private grants; making customized training contacts profitable; and selling advertising in publications, enotes, and learning labs.

As CVTC enters this time of unknowns, the staff must stick together. “If we say true to our values, we’ll do fine. In fact, we’ll do great.”

“We have for the last 99 years, and we will for the next 99 years,” he said.