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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher October 26, 2011

GOP Gov. Scott Walker says "largest category" of those entering technical college already have four-year degrees

We’ve heard the lousy job market has led many people to go back to school.

But huge numbers of people with four-year degrees going to technical college?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker spoke about technical colleges when he was asked about unemployment during a TV interview that was broadcast Oct. 16, 2011. He told CW14 in Green Bay he had repeatedly heard employers say "we have jobs, particularly good-paying manufacturing jobs, we just don’t have enough skilled workers, we don’t have enough people interested in those jobs."

The Republican governor went on to say:

"In fact, the largest category of people coming into the technical schools in Wisconsin are people with four-year degrees because the jobs that they’re looking for with their degrees aren’t there, and so instead they’re going back to school to get more technical training."

Technical colleges have long been the next step for many students who have just finished high school and for experienced workers looking to upgrade their skills. So we wondered if those groups are now being outnumbered in Wisconsin’s technical schools by people with bachelor’s degrees.

That’s what Walker said -- but it apparently isn’t what he meant.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie told us in an email:

"My understanding is that this quote was based on a conversation he had with tech college officials where they made a point to highlight the fact that one of the fastest growing enrollment demographics was individuals who have attended four-year colleges."
That’s a far cry from Walker stated in the interview. He labeled college graduates the largest group entering technical schools.

So, let’s dig into the numbers.

Technical colleges are a key part of the discussion of how to attack unemployment in Wisconsin, where the jobless rate was 7.8 percent in September 2011, and at the national level. A few days after an October 2011 survey revealed that U.S. manufacturers lack qualified applicants for 600,000 skilled positions, the Wisconsin AFL-CIO cited the shortage and called on Walker to restore a 30 percent funding cut he made to technical colleges in the 2011-2013 state budget.

The number of college graduates, meanwhile, who applied to U.S. graduate schools rose 8.4 percent in 2010, according to a September 2011 report from the Council of Graduate Schools. So, are an increasing number of four-year graduates heading to technical college, too?

As of 2009, the number of four-year degree holders transferring into one of Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges"had grown 30 percent in the last decade," according to a publication from the Wisconsin Technical College System.

But that statistic is a bit dated and it deals with whether that group is increasing. A small set of individuals can still show a large percentage increase. Moreover, Walker referred to four-year grads in relation to other groups.

So, we sought more information from Morna Foy, executive assistant and vice president of policy and government relations for the technical college system.

Foy said she believed Walker was trying to repeat a statement that she and other technical college system officials had made -- that a growing percentage of transfer students into the technical colleges are students who already have four-year degrees.

We asked her for a breakdown of transfer students who entered technical college in 2009, 2010 and 2011, to see if there were any trends. Foy emphasized that the 2011 figures were just being finalized, so Walker would not have been aware of them when he made his statement.

The figures show that students with four-year degrees -- more specifically, those who had completed 16 or more years of schooling -- made up 15 percent of the nearly 10,000 technical college transfer students in 2009. The rate increased to 16 percent in 2010.

So, based on figures that had been publicized when Walker did the TV interview, there was a     1-percentage-point increase between 2009 and 2010 in the number of people entering technical college who had four-year degrees. (The rate remained at 16 percent for 2011.)

But in each of the three years, the largest category of students transferring into the technical colleges each year remained those who had completed 12 years of schooling -- in other words, high school graduates.

High school graduates made up more than one-third of the transfer students each year, more than twice the level of four-year grads.

Our conclusion

Walker said "the largest category of people coming into the technical schools in Wisconsin are people with four-year degrees." Walker’s spokesman said the governor actually meant to claim that an increasing number of people with four-year degrees are going to technical college.

Between 2009 and 2010, the percentage of college graduates entering technical college rose a bit. But high school graduates make up the largest category of transfer students in technical schools, far outnumbering those with college degrees.  

We rate Walker’s statement False.

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Our Sources

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "U.S. manufacturers looking for 600,000 skilled workers, survey says," Oct. 17, 2011

Wisconsin Technical College System, "Wisconsin technical college students transferring credit from University of Wisconsin System and other post-secondary institutions, 2009-2010," July 2011

Wisconsin Technical College System, "Wisconsin’s futuremakers: Building the next generation"

CW 14, "CW 14 Focus," Oct. 16, 2011

Interview, Milwaukee Area Technical College director of public relations Kathleen Hohl, Oct. 18, 2011

Interview, Madison Area Technical College media relations coordinator Bill Bessette, Oct. 18, 2011

Interview and email interview, Wisconsin Technical College System executive assistant and vice president of policy and government relations Morna Foy, Oct. 18, 20 and 24, 2011

Email interview, Gov. Scott Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie, Oct. 19, 2011

Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, September 2011 unemployment news release, Oct. 20, 2011

Rutgers University, "Unfulfilled expectations: Recent college graduates struggle in a troubled economy," May 2011

Council of Graduate Schools, graduate school enrollment news release, Sept. 22, 2011

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GOP Gov. Scott Walker says "largest category" of those entering technical college already have four-year degrees

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