NWTC gets national award for helping students graduate

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About 200 Oconto County high school students have dual enrollment
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Northeast Wisconsin Technical College president Jeffrey Rafn makes his annual report to the Oconto County Board.

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College has received several national awards, including one from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for its efforts to improve its students’ financial literacy and help them graduate.

“We aren’t in this business to win awards, but the awards certainly bring validation to us in terms that we’re doing the job that we need to be doing with our students,” said Jeffrey Rafn, NWTC president, in his annual report to the Oconto County Board on Thursday.

The recognition also helps pave the way to recruit students, letting them know they’d be attending an award-winning institution, Rafn said.

NWTC has worked hard to improve its graduation rate by providing tutors and other services. One example is an emergency fund that Rafn said could provide gas cards for students who temporarily can’t afford to get to class.

“It wasn’t unheard of for students to stop coming to the college because they ran out of money for gas at the end of the month,” Rafn said. “So then they’d miss a week of school. And then they’d begin to think they were too far behind, and they’d stop coming. Well, for $25 if I can help them come back to school and get finished, I think that’s a pretty wise investment.”

NWTC currently has about 16,000 students taking courses for credit — about 9,000 of which are in associate degree programs. Another 14,000 people are taking non-credit courses, including business training in businesses and on such campuses as the Regional Learning Center in Oconto Falls.

About 200 Oconto County high school students last year earned almost 1,000 college credits in partnerships between NWTC and the local schools.

“There’s a lot of talk about skill shortages and not having enough people out there who know these kinds of what I would call ‘middle skills,’ whether it’s a factory or a health facility or a bank or commercial construction,” Rafn said. “Just about everybody I meet, employers, will tell me that I’m not producing enough students.”

Under these “dual enrollment” programs, teachers teach NWTC curriculum and students earn credits that can apply toward post-secondary degrees at NWTC and often University of Wisconsin campuses after they graduate from high school, he said.

During his own monthly presentation, Paul Ehrfurth of the Oconto County Economic Development Corp. said Rafn’s comments reinforced the need for the business-education partnerships his organization has invested in.

Rafn was joined by Carla Hedtke of Oconto Falls, vice president of the NWTC District Board, who recently was named chairperson of the Wisconsin Technical College District Board Association.