Blackhawk Technical College makes changes, increases enrollment

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, September 21, 2017

Blackhawk Technical College is boasting of an enrollment increase a little over a year since a new president began pushing staff members to change how the college does business.

Fall enrollments had been dropping, as is normal in an improving economy. But President Tracy Pierner last year challenged his staff to make the college more user-friendly and to recruit more students coming directly out of high school.

That has made a difference, said college spokesman Gary Kohn.

“We were recruiting high school students previously, but I think Dr. Pierner asked us to step up our game and pursue that audience with more resources, and we did,” Kohn said.

The college had enrolled 196 recent high school graduates at this time last year, Kohn said. This year, 295 are enrolled.

The college announced Thursday that the for-credit and pre-college student head count increased by 3 percentage points when compared to the start of the 2016-17 school year.

And full-time-equivalent credits increased by 6 percent.

Staff members have spent more time at high schools in Green and Rock counties over the past year, and the school has done more advertising on social media, Kohn said.

Flexible class schedules are also attracting more students, allowing them to complete courses while juggling work and other responsibilities, Kohn said.

Some courses allow students to get their lab work done at any time during the day, not just at a specific time.

Other classes are offered via teleconferencing, so students do not have to travel to the classroom to hear the lecture.

Classroom lectures for some courses also are offered as online videos, so a student could see and hear the lecture at any time of day.

One change allows welding students to enroll at any time, rather than before a semester starts. The result was a 16 percent increase in full-time-equivalent welding credits after two weeks into the semester, the college reported.

The automotive technician program, meanwhile, has begun allowing flexible attendance and keeps its lab open all day. The result was an 86 percent increase in full-time-equivalent credits.

The open lab lets the school handle more students without needing more space because the space and equipment are used over more hours, Kohn said.

Additional students eventually can mean more instructors, however.

Pierner said the automotive technician program went from two instructors last year to three this year. In other cases, instructors will work longer hours to accommodate smaller increases.

BTC has developed a model that calls for an additional hour of instructional time to be provided when approximately 16 credit hours are sold, Pierner said. The model pays for the additional instructor time.

Other programs showing increased enrollment this fall are agribusiness, human resources, emergency medical technician, criminal justice, medical assistant, laboratory technician assistant, physical therapy assistant, medical sonography, pharmacy technician and nursing, the college reported.

Nursing has started offering a part-time program, allowing students to complete the program in three years instead of two, Kohn said.

Pierner is pushing for more “student-centered education,” which means offering classes “where they want it, how they want it and when they want it,” he is quoted as saying in a news release.

BTC also is looking to expand dual-credit programs, in which high school students take courses at their schools while earning both high school and college credit, Kohn said.

“We still think we have much more room to grow,” Kohn said.

“We want to break down a lot of the artificial walls colleges sometimes create with static schedules,” he added.

That means adding more night and weekend classes, more part-time programs and different ways to deliver courses to working adults so they can advance in their professions, he said.

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