In 1975, Blackhawk Technical College offered 38 degrees in professions such as ward clerk, drafting and fast-food operations.
It now offers more than 80 technical diplomas, associate degrees, certificates and apprenticeships in areas such as information technology, culinary arts, radiology and nuclear technology.
In the future, students might see associate degrees in organizational leadership, digital marketing, graphic design and alcohol and other drug abuse counseling.
Blackhawk Technical College’s courses and degrees have always evolved as jobs have changed. But now the pace has accelerated, and more effort is focused on making a degree a pathway to something more, school officials said.
In October, the Blackhawk Technical College Board approved the “concept review” of four new associate degrees: organizational leadership, customer service and sales management, digital marketing and alcohol and other drug abuse counseling.
The program descriptions include labor market analysis, local employer survey results, salary information, other technical colleges that offer similar degrees, survey data from local employers, estimated pay and how the degrees might serve as a base for future schooling.
“In the past, the way we thought about these programs is that if they transfer to a four-year program, great. If not, so be it,” said Zahi Atallah, vice president of academic affairs at Blackhawk. “Now, we want to consider the four-year option from the onset.”
Certificates or associate degrees from Blackhawk should get students jobs after graduation, Atallah said. They also should provide ways to move up the career or education ladder.
Consider the alcohol and other drug abuse counselor program. If approved at the state level, the courses would give students associate degrees, serve as state-approved substance abuse counselor training and prepare students to take the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors examination.
In addition, the majority of the first-year classes are the same as other human services courses offered by Blackhawk Technical College. That would give students the chance to shift gears after their first year. Finally, officials hope to design the courses so they would transfer to UW-Whitewater or another four-year school. With such a base, a student could pursue a degree in social work.
“We want to consider how we can maximize the student’s investment for everybody’s best interest—the students, the employers, the taxpayers and, ultimately, us,” Atallah said.
Jon Tysse, Blackhawk’s director of institutional effectiveness and research, said the school tries to “look at things from a stacked and latticed perspective.”
For example, Blackhawk awards two-year degrees, technical diplomas and certificates in a variety of topics. Each of those should serve as a base for continuing education. Or the degrees should give people already working a chance to qualify for promotions or pay raises.
“We want to provide our students with as many on-ramps to education as they need while at the same time providing off-ramps, too,” he said.
He used the culinary production specialist as an example. The one-year degree allows students to get jobs as line cooks or prep cooks. Wages rage from $12 to $18 an hour, according to local job listings.
The one-year program allows students to get into the workforce quickly and inexpensively. It’s also designed so its courses are the same as the first year of the culinary arts two-year degree. When they decide to return to school, that first degree will count for something.
Blackhawk’s “embedded technical diplomas” and certificates operate in a similar way. Students in the welding and machinist program can earn certificates in individual skills such as shielded metal arc welder, gas tungsten arc welder, manual mill machinist and manual lathe machinist, helping them get employment as soon as possible. Or they can choose to stay in school and chose another stopping point as an “off-ramp.”