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Opinion: Higher education partnerships in Wisconsin pave way for student success

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Opinion: Higher education partnerships in Wisconsin pave way for student success

College president and chancellors

From left, UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Jim Schmidt, UW-River Falls Chancellor Maria Gallo, Chippewa Valley Technical College President Sunem Beaton-Garcia and UW-Stout Chancellor Katherine Frank meet at Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire to discuss collaborations and transfer options.

With the academic year having drawn to a close, celebration is in order for our students’ achievements and the exciting paths that lie before them. For many students, this means charting a course toward career aspirations and navigating the often-complex landscape of higher education. This journey can sometimes feel like a confusing road trip without a map for those transitioning from technical and community colleges to universities. Along the educational journey, there are many on-ramps and off-ramps. Commitments by higher education institutions to ensure students' experiences are flexible and efficient are vital.

This challenge has not gone unnoticed in the Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) district. CVTC and three regional universities—UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls, and UW-Stout—are actively addressing this issue – recognizing their shared responsibility to streamline pathways and maximize students' time and resources. 

These on- and off-ramps are evident in the experiences of our students. Nearly 51 percent of all students who transfer earn a degree or diploma from CVTC. Most of those students earn degrees before transferring, but some students transfer from CVTC and return to graduate from CVTC.

“We nurtured nearly 220 students this academic year alone that started here and transferred to one of the UWs in our district. This number grows to over 700 when you include students in our occupational programs and other four-year partners,” said CVTC President Sunem Beaton-Garcia, Ed.D. “The partnership with our UW institutions is of great importance, and I am grateful for their continued collaboration to provide seamless transfer for students.” 

The Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) University Transfer programs make it possible for students who never thought they could attend a four-year university, for whatever reason, to start in a smaller environment, gain confidence, and continue onto a university for additional credentials as required for their chosen career path. The partnerships with UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls and UW-Stout have provided much-needed options to meet the needs of students’ career journeys throughout northwest Wisconsin and beyond.

CVTC also offers a College Transfer High School Academy, where high school students can gain 28 credits toward the AA or AS degree completion at CVTC, or they can then transfer those credits to any UW institution, further supporting various points along a student’s journey. The UW institutions also offer dual-credit and college in the high school options that enable high school students to earn college credits before graduating.

Given the increasingly personalized pathways of students, UW-Stout Chancellor Katherine Frank, Ph.D., recognizes the responsibility and opportunity to meet students where they are and to remove barriers that accelerate their entry into their chosen career fields.

“The dedicated work of our faculty and staff has enhanced our innovative transfer options at Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University. Across UW-Stout’s array of career-focused programs, we have 20 articulation agreements with CVTC. Now, students pursuing Automation Leadership, Engineering Technology, Environmental Science, Technology Education and other workforce-ready areas can seamlessly transfer at least 50 credits into UW-Stout’s polytechnic degree programs. For a program like Automation Leadership, students can start their degree in high school, and if they attend a technical college before coming to UW-Stout, can transfer up to 88 credits towards degree completion,” Frank said. 

One innovative commitment driving this collaborative effort is the establishment of a shared academic advisor based at CVTC and supported by the three UW partners. This dedicated professional helps students navigate the intricacies of transfer requirements and course equivalencies. Students begin transfer planning in their first semester at CVTC, including those in University Transfer Liberal Arts, technical degree, High School Academy, and Start College Now programs.

But the collaboration doesn't stop there. Annual gatherings between CVTC and each of the universities, called Reaffirmation Day, delve deeper into enhancing transfer options through synchronized academic programming and shared student services. This effort has resulted in a substantial number of new pathways to help students select the best classes for their career goals.

A direct result of the Reaffirmation Day with UWEC is a system-wide agreement from CVTC’s Applied Associate of Science (AAS) program to the Professional Studies degree at UWEC. With 60 fully transferrable credits, this agreement is ideal for students who have completed the AAS and are interested in attaining a bachelor’s degree to further their careers.

UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Jim Schmidt, Ed.D., said the shared goal is always to provide educational options across our institutions that will help students meet their goals.

“We put students first as we focus on the public good and ways UW-Eau Claire can enhance the communities we serve. By removing barriers and simplifying the transfer process, we create new opportunities for students who want to earn a bachelor’s degree, join the workforce and move our community forward,” Schmidt said.

Each symposium also includes student panels to hear firsthand how the partnering institutions can provide continuous improvement to the process. 

Holly Hufnagle is one of many students who began her education at CVTC and then will go on to further her education at UW-River Falls. This process was made easier because of an agreement between the two schools three years ago. Hufnagle plans to pursue a degree in biomedical and health science at UWRF this fall after completing her associate degree at CVTC.

“My biggest advice to students is talk with your advisers,” Hufnagle said. “Reaching out can be kind of scary. But it really, really helps.”

Maria Gallo, Ph.D., UW-River Falls Chancellor, set a vision for her team to partner with CVTC to offer students additional educational opportunities and they have not looked back. 

“With students at the heart of our efforts, we have established 23 articulation agreements and 11 pathways with CVTC in the last two years,” she said. “It is vitally important to provide our students with as many opportunities as possible to help them find their academic paths and give them the resources they need to have successful outcomes.”

Gallo noted the importance of joint professional development for employees and shared messaging for prospective and existing students as priority items of their collaboration with CVTC.

CVTC also relaunched a student club this year in support of University Transfer students. 

“This group helps students find belonging, explore transfer goals, and serve the community,” said University Transfer Liberal Arts (UTLA) Program Director Tammy Stone. 

The UTLA OUTLAST (Otters for University Transfer Liberal Arts Successful Transitions) club has 15 members and hopes to grow rapidly in the coming years.

The results of these collective efforts speak volumes. Students report feeling supported and confident in their educational journey, knowing their transition is seamless and their credits are transferable. We also believe that closer ties contribute to student success, with all three partner universities indicating that CVTC transfer students have higher-than-average GPAs.

By facilitating smoother transitions, CVTC, UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls and UW-Stout empower students to reach their full potential and contribute meaningfully to their communities. Whatever their area of academic interest, every student deserves the opportunity to realize their dreams without unnecessary barriers.

Together, we are building a future in which pathways are both seamless and transformative. This is our commitment to our students and communities.


Dr. Sunem Beaton-Garcia, Ed.D., President, Chippewa Valley Technical College

Dr. Jim Schmidt, Ed.D., Chancellor, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Dr. Katherine Frank, Ph.D., Chancellor, University of Wisconsin-Stout

Dr. Maria Gallo, Ph.D., Chancellor, University of Wisconsin-River Falls

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