July 30, 2023

Higher Education Innovation – A Synergistic Approach – with Richard Barnhouse – [Ep. 179]

Higher Education Innovation – A Synergistic Approach – with Richard Barnhouse – [Ep. 179]

Higher education costs have skyrocketed and many people wonder if the value matches the expense. That question has become more relevant as people who have never gone to college – or those who have gone and paid back their debt – are being asked to...

Higher education costs have skyrocketed and many people wonder if the value matches the expense. That question has become more relevant as people who have never gone to college – or those who have gone and paid back their debt – are being asked to pay off loans for those who still have debt, and as many institutions focus less on academics than on social activism. Is there a better way? Do students truly need a traditional degree? Richard Barnhouse, President of Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC), discussed with Linda many of the innovative and synergistic approaches he has taken to improve options and outcomes in higher education. Working with businesses to design programs that truly prepare students for the work force is just one example of unique approaches that may be taken to assure student success and a strong, capable labor force. Listen to hear more innovative ideas that can empower individuals and businesses to succeed.

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Linda J. Hansen:  Welcome. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Prosperity 101 Breakroom Economics Podcast. My name is Linda J. Hansen, your host and the author of Prosperity 101- Job Security Through Business Prosperity: The Essential Guide to Understanding How Policy Affects Your Paycheck, and the creator of the Breakroom Economics Online course, the book, the course and the entire podcast library can be found on Prosperity101.Com. I seek to connect boardroom to break room and policy to paycheck by empowering and encouraging employers to educate employees about the public policy issues that affect their jobs. My goal is to help people understand the foundations of prosperity, the policies of prosperity, and how to protect their prosperity by becoming informed, involved, and impactful. I believe this will lead to greater employee loyalty, engagement and retention, and to an increased awareness of the blessings and responsibilities of living in a free society. Listen each week to hear from exciting guests and be sure to visit Prosperity 101.Com.

Thank you for joining with me today. It's no secret that higher education costs have risen dramatically over the past several decades. Many young people and or their parents are saddled with student loan debt. Many wonder if the value matched the expense. That question has become more relevant as people who have never gone to college or those who have gone and paid back every penny of their loan debt are being asked to pay off the loans. For those who still have debt, of course it's being sold as the government paying off the student loan debt. But remember, anytime the government is paying, that means you are paying. Do we need traditional four year college degrees? So many institutions have adopted the woke liberal ideologies and are more concerned with educating on social activism than actual academics. If we don't have traditional higher education, how can students receive an education that truly prepares them for satisfying and profitable work? And how can employers access a well-educated well-trained pool of applicants to add to their company rosters?

You may be wondering, is there a better way? Yes, there is. And today we are going to discuss some innovative and synergistic approaches to higher education. School choice is important for students of all ages, and unique approaches to higher education can increase productivity and prosperity for all. With me today to discuss this issue is Richard Barnhouse, president of Waukesha County, Wisconsin Technical College, or WCTC. Richard has approached his role at WCTC with fresh ideas, unique experiences, and a true desire to build an educational community that meshes well with the business community to prepare students for success in the job market. I first met Richard at a business networking event, and I was impressed by his faith, his commitment to his values, his love of country, and his desire to make a positive difference with innovative approaches to higher education. Thank you for joining with me, Richard. It's a pleasure to have this long awaited interview thank you.

Richard Barnhouse: And thank you very much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Linda J. Hansen: Well, I was totally impressed with you when we first met. And as I came to visit you at WCTC, I could see you really do have an innovative approach and just your personality and your own sense of purpose and value drive you to do things a little bit differently. You've had a rich career in higher education. Could you share with the listeners your background and the changes you've seen since you began your career?

Richard Barnhouse: Sure. Yeah. Thank you. I very intentionally well, I will say now, 20 plus years after I started my career. It was intentional at the time, maybe not so much, but I did, at some point in my career, decide to have a bit of an eclectic experience. And the point of that was to understand the industry that I desired to lead in, and that being higher education, to understand it from multiple points of view with multiple layers of what it's like to be a student, an administrator and a faculty member. To really not be the sort of traditional one idea person for a 30 or 40 year career. And so I started out I really started thinking about this when I was in graduate school at Central Michigan University as a grad assistant, and really beginning to understand that a college or university is an organization, a business, a small city, a political organization in terms of what we deal with day to day. And I realized early on as a grad assistant that you need to understand the whole thing or as many parts of this massive infrastructure as possible. So I started out my career actually at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

And Rice is a very elite institution, quite expensive, unbelievably talented students, faculty type of institution. And I learned a lot there. And I learned a lot about things that I wanted to be involved in and the things that I didn't want to be involved in. And that led me to wanting to be a part of a big state institution. And so I was at the University of South Carolina Columbia main campus, and got to see things en masse the way a big public major one institution operates. And in both of those experiences, I realized that I wasn't close enough to what I wanted to be doing. And I sort of stumbled upon that. And that was, I really believe that if you give people opportunity that don't typically have that opportunity, that you can change families, communities, and therefore you can really embolden and strengthen the country. And so at that point, I turned toward two year education. And so I left South Carolina and I moved up to Wisconsin, and I took an administrative position at a two year school within the University of Wisconsin system in Sheboygan.

And that's really what kicked it off for me, working closely with the community, closely with people and trying to make a difference for business and industry and the humans that reside in those companies. And that's really what the change was for me. So I was a two year UW Sheboygan for a number of years, and then I was at Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac, really getting onto the technical side of things. Another piece I needed to add. And then I served as Associate Vice Chancellor for the University of Wisconsin Colleges, which were all of the two year colleges across the state of Wisconsin. And then I left for Florida and I served as a Vice President for Student Services and Enrollment Management for five years at the State College of Florida. And I've been in my role here as president of WCTC for almost three years now. So that's the eclecticness of my background.

Linda J. Hansen: Very good. Well, your role at WCTC must have been exciting to you to leave the warm weather of Florida for the winters of Wisconsin.

Richard Barnhouse: Yeah, I can remember being contacted about the job. And I'd spent the majority of my career in Wisconsin bouncing back and forth between UW and the Tech college system. And I can remember thinking, if I ever get an opportunity to be a part of WCTC, I wanted to be because I'd always heard so many great things about it and it just worked out. And the other thing is that I brought my in law's daughter home because she is from Waukesha and went through the school system here. So it worked out for everybody.

Linda J. Hansen: That's great. It's always good to know when things come together like that. So congratulations on that. It's a great career. And I know when you came to WCTC, it was kind of exciting. And when I first met you, I thought, wow, you are really bringing some innovation to higher education. And just your approaches were different. And it was so refreshing. And I want people to understand. One of the things that is not uncommon now, but I think it was when you first came here, you had said, my goal in Waukeshaw County is to have more high school students graduating with their associate's degree and high school diploma simultaneously. I just thought that was great. And we've seen some of that.

And since I was a home school parent, like I was homeschooling my kids, there was a lot of college courses along with high school courses and things like that, kind of more readily available, I would say, to home school students than traditional school students at the time. Now that's become a little more common. But to have what you have with this degree option and the high school option is, I think, really great. Could you tell the listeners about that?

Richard Barnhouse: Sure, certainly. So, for a number of years, probably 15years this is what Linda is describing as dual enrollment, where a high school student, typically in their junior or senior year, will take a class or two at their local college or university. And that counts both as a high school credit and as a college university credit. And most often it's at a reasonable price for the student. And so that's been happening for 15 years or so. But that's really all that it was where a student might get a couple of credits and move into college with a couple of credits in grade and help them satisfy their high school. What we decided to do, and this was based on my experience in Florida, was to really shift this. Because, quite honestly, I believe it takes too long in K Twelve and it takes too long in higher education to get what you need, become a very educated and well trained citizen and get out into the workforce and doing the things that you want to do and being a vibrant, contributing member of the community and the society overall. So what I saw in Florida is that we were able to build a program where students in their junior year and senior year of high school come to us full time, right? So full time at the college and transcript all those credits back to the high school.

And so you were completing the last two years of high school and the first two years of college or an associate's degree simultaneously at the same time. And so when I got back to Wisconsin, was working with attorneys and different people on statutes and said, well, tell me where it says I can't do this. And because for years and years and years and I can remember being up here, we were told, well, you can't really do that. I said, Show me where it says that I can't do that. And well, it doesn't. So we moved forward with it and we worked with our local K Twelve districts. There are a dozen or so in the Walkershawk County area and worked with them to figure out a way where their juniors and seniors could come to us up to full time. And here's the other thing, Linda. Take any program, right? So normally you just pick up an English and a math and you move on, but could be actual program students in any program they wanted. Except we've got a couple that are age restricted, but by and large, 99% they could enter in and they could go full time, part time, whatever they wanted, and transcript that back to their high school.

And so we also figured out a way where we're just making better use of tax dollars so we didn't have to ask for any money because what we charge for tuition is significantly less than what a high school gets per pupil from the state. And so we worked out an arrangement with the high schools and the districts, and I got to give them a lot of credit for this, that the districts would actually pay for their high school students to attend WCTC. And so, as I've explained to some folks in the area, it's really just a different way. A better use of tax dollars to get students through high school and college more quickly out into the workforce, or they transfer as a junior to the university of their choice, cutting out two years in cost. And so it really opens up doors for folks that didn't think they could afford college, didn't want to carry debt. And at a technical college there are well over 100 programs that their eyes sort of just go, wow, I didn't know that was a career. And so it's worked really, really well. We're excited about it and it continues to grow every year.

Linda J. Hansen: I think it's very exciting. And I know students who've gone through this and I wish I would have had something like that. I think it was great. There's also apprenticeships and I think that apprenticeships, they don't get enough recognition lately, but so often you can have apprenticeships with the trades. Could you tell us a little bit about that and how your school works with those types of situations?

Richard Barnhouse: Sure. And you know what? You'll like to hear this, Linda. The request for apprentice type of programs is increasing and we're working with companies to start new apprenticeships throughout the entire southeast area, largely in Waukesha course. But an apprenticeship is a great option because the student is actually in textbook class, sitting in a classroom maybe once a week, and the rest of the time they are out with the company itself, working and learning. And so you've got this really symbiotic situation going on where the student is learning hands on, not just the trade, but at the company. So these are young folks often not always coming out, learning the trade and the way the company wants it done, getting college credit and getting some classroom instruction at the same time.

That program is typically about a three to four year roughly program overall. And so by the time the student has completed that program, they're unbelievably qualified and unbelievably talented. And so that works really well. And a dean and a VP and I, we visit businesses pretty regularly. We're out meeting with a local industry and thinking about how we might start more of those for a specific company in the area.

Linda J. Hansen: That's so innovative and I know it's happening a lot across the country and it's great. And a lot of times students can graduate from the apprenticeship program and they have no debt and they're already making a living wage, I mean, family supporting wage. And in addition, they're learning from the ground level how a business operates. So later they may become the entrepreneur. It's just a great way to build back into the community and into the job market and promote entrepreneurship and new business growth. I think it's just fantastic.

Richard Barnhouse: Yeah, I'm glad you brought that up because they are being paid, they're not working at this company for free, right? So they're being paid a real wage, as you would say, a living wage, and going to school at the same time. And often the company is covering the cost of whatever that classroom instruction is. And so they are they're walking out debt free into positions that pay them unbelievably good salaries and almost always excellent benefits. I think my sense is in the last year or so, maybe a little bit longer than that, apprenticeships are really starting to come back. But that's for a lot of reasons. That has to do with industry. It has to do with Gen Z, who's coming through and has to do also, I think, in a change in the way parents are viewing opportunities for their kids.

Linda J. Hansen: Exactly. And as I talked in the introduction, the cost of higher education and does the value really match the expense? And I want to go back to one thing you talked about with that degree program where they come out and they have their two year degree, their associate degree. But now you have partnered with higher education organization Lakeland, and they're right there on the Waukesha campus now, there. And so people, if they want to just continue on to get their full four year degree, it's right there. It's kind of a seamless flow for them, correct?

Richard Barnhouse: That's right. Yeah. So we worked with Lakeland literally, I think it was January, my first two or three weeks on the job, Lakeland University, and I Beth Borgan, who's the president Lakeland and I started talking, and she was a new president at the same time. And we both sort of said, well, I think that we could probably do things a little bit better in this part of the state. And so we worked over time through MO-USE and different things and to get the curriculum lined up as well. And so Lakeland is now on our campus. This, you know, students can move through WCTC and then move seamlessly into a baccalaureate degree. And we worked with Lakeland to say, look, our students are used to paying a really cheap price for higher because we're supported by the taxpayers and the local tax base. And so our students are unlikely to pay private school education price. And so I got to get a lot of credit to Lakeland because they really significantly decreased their prices for students coming through from WCTC into the program. And the other thing that we did, because at the heart of the Wisconsin Technical College system and all the colleges is that we do things as needed by our community and by business and industry locally here. So what I mean is I'm not going to add a philosophy program because I feel like it. I'm only going to add a program that's going to add to the value in our Waukesha District, and it's going to be employable when students walk out.

That's at the heart of the technical college system. And so Lakeland knows this, and they said, well, fine, you tell us what programs you want on that campus, and that's exactly what we'll deliver. And we'll deliver it in the format you want because we're an eight week term institution, because you can get through college quicker and more cheaply. And so they were willing to change their curriculum and the structure in order to meet what we wanted to do. So that's just a great example of a private institution reaching out to a public institution and saying, hey, can we do this a little bit better? And the other thing about that, Linda, is that a lot of people might not know this about transfer students. As soon as a student leaves their original institution and transfers somewhere else, you're going to lose about 30% of those students. So if you have to walk further than across a parking lot to get to your transfer destination, you're going to lose a lot of those students. And so this is just a better way of working, I would say, in the future of higher education, where you've got more colleges and universities on the same campus. And we can talk about that later if you want. That's the way I see WCTC expanding what we do.

Linda J. Hansen: Yes, it's great. I hope that more technical colleges and institutions of higher education will follow that trend. It's like I said in the introduction, is there a better way? And you're clearly showing that there is a better way. So, listeners, there's so many options out there for you or for your young people in your family or within your workplace. There's so many different options. And of course, if you live in Wisconsin, in southeast Wisconsin, this is there. But Richard, for people across the country, do you know of other technical colleges that are doing some of these innovative things like you?

Richard Barnhouse: You know, I think the two systems that sent out to me are Florida and California. And Texas does this really well also. But my experience in Florida is where I got a lot of these ideas. Florida's kind of ripped the Band Aid off and just sort of let higher ed go to some.

Linda J. Hansen: Mean by let them flourish in their.

Richard Barnhouse: Like, push them off into the Gulf of Mexico or anything. That's not what I meant. But just know have taken the red tape away and said, go be your best and do the right thing for the state and for the taxpayers. Sorry, go ahead.

Linda J. Hansen: Yeah. No, I was just going to say you mentioned taking away the red tape, and that's something I've been involved in a lot of regulatory reform issues, a lot of issue advocacy type projects. And getting rid of red tape that ties the hands of citizens and businesses and institutions is so important if we're going to be able to flourish and grow. And so in your mind, what would you tell employers and employees what types of policies should they be supporting and should they be looking for candidates to support that would allow for this flourishing and this innovation in higher education?

Richard Barnhouse: Great question. I actually think that's the first time I get asked questions all the time. I think that's the first time I've been asked that question. I would say where I sit, it's important that there's a commitment to what is local. And so folks that want to govern that understand the value of colleges and universities paying attention to the local region that they are responsible for. And in my region of my district, if there were anything that were going to remove my relationship with the local taxpayers, that would really change things. And sometimes that has to do with property tax, for example. But we are really beholden to be responsible to the local property taxes, the local businesses, because they fund us. If that were to shift to the capital, then we'd be holding to Madison.

For those of you outside of Wisconsin, we'd be holding to the capital, which is not the same as the county I'm in and the businesses and community that I need to work on behalf of. And that's one of the strengths, is keeping higher education as local as possible for most colleges and universities. The other thing I would say is, if you want to understand why a college or university can't do something and it's a public institution, just go to Statutes and you'll see how colleges and universities are regulated. And I appreciate there needs to be some regulation, and that's good. But if regulations haven't changed in 50 or 60 years, that would say, gee, maybe we should start thinking about keeping up with the times and really asking the local tax base what they need their colleges to do and then think about how that might inform statutes removal or change.

Linda J. Hansen: I love the local idea. All politics is local, right? All politics are local. And so being able to look at policies as well as the programs you develop for your college are so important to consider the local level. And when you were talking before about the programs that the employers need you to offer so that the workforce is ready when they come out, I was thinking of how localizing that we don't really need marine biology here in Waukesha County. I mean, maybe a little because we have Lake Michigan. It's a little bit different.

But I'm sure that there's things that are very regional to different parts of the country. And so those colleges and universities need to focus on that because you've got the hands on experience and the ready job market right there in the local area. But other places, I mean, it might be mining, it might be all manufacturing, it might be medical. There's so many different areas that people can work in and get their training in. And different parts of the country have different strengths and weaknesses actually, too. So what do you feel is the most important thing here in this area? And when you were in Florida, what Was most prevalent in terms of degree options?

Richard Barnhouse: Yeah, great question. So I had a meeting earlier today with some of the other presidents from the tech college system. Not all, but a few. And we were talking about the importance of staying local and talking to our legislators about that. And I was talking with one of the presidents in the northern part of Wisconsin, and they're developing a massive, really impressive sawyering program, right, sawmills. And that's really important and needed and driven by the local community and businesses in northern Wisconsin. And that college needs to have the flexibility to do that, to respond to their local tax base and needs of the industry. And I was joking.

The other person on the call was from southern Wisconsin with me, and I sort of joked. And, you know, I don't need a sawmill or a program like that in sort of the greater Milwaukee area. But to answer your question, Linda, what I do need and what we are working on is heavy automation and working with robots, robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, because that's what our local, if you can believe it or not, our local employers and industry are really grappling with. And so that's where we're really starting to invest in those types of programs, which might be different than in other parts of the state. And then at WCTC, we've got roughly 100 programs, maybe a little over 100 programs.

We've got everything from diesel mechanic to liberal arts and everything in the middle, culinary, business, health. We have a police academy, we have fire training. You name it, we probably have it. But in this area, we're really starting to focus on what's the next generation of manufacturing in machine learning and automation and those types of things. In Florida, we were a two year college that actually started a four year degree program in Homeland Security because that was what was driven by the Coast Guard. And they needed these employees, and other institutions weren't building that kind of program, so we built it. And it really depends on where you are in the country and what your needs might be.

Linda J. Hansen: I think that is fantastic, that proactive and reactive approach. And so I really appreciate that. Okay, just a couple last questions here. If you were going to tell employers or advise them on how they could encourage their employees to look at policy issues regarding their education, what would you tell them?

Richard Barnhouse: Well, I would tell them to take a step back and advise people that they're speaking with about what really matters. Not what they've been told matters, but what they actually think matters, what they've learned over time about what is needed in higher education, what's not needed in higher education. And I would encourage them to talk with their local colleges and universities, because you can really sort of get a sense, when you're talking with colleges and universities, who's moving forward and who still thinks it's 1975.

And most colleges, universities still think it's 1975. And so that's why I typically find myself I wouldn't say out on a limb, but standard by myself because of the way we're trying to bend and change and move higher education, but to really think about what is actually needed and to think about what jobs might be coming up over the next decade. And that really should inform their opinion about higher education.

Linda J. Hansen: Perfect. And so do you have any other closing comments before we close the interview and let people know how to contact you and to get more information about WCTC?

Richard Barnhouse: Oh, thank you. Well, like every other person in the world, I'll say you can find that information on our website. Our website is wctc.edu. I think that truthfully, higher education has needed to change for probably the last 25, maybe 30 years, but the last 25 for sure. And higher education is about to be disrupted significantly by a change in the population. And we are prepared to manage that and deal with that because we're going to be offering degrees and programs that are actually meaningful, that actually lead to employment and big time careers, and they're going to be valuable over the next 20 plus years. And my advice to folks is to remember that when somebody's being hired, the only thing that really matters is what they can deliver.

And that's what I would be looking for in employees. That's how we look at what are we putting out as students and graduates, folks that are the most highly trained and best educated in what they do in the world. And you heard me right, the world. Not just in the region, but the most highly skilled and trained folks in the world. And I would put our grads up against anybody in the programs we offer, really anywhere in the world they're that good. And it comes down to the level of faculty, the quality of faculty that we have at WCTC.

Linda J. Hansen: That commitment to excellence is part of the reason I wanted to interview you. And just your ability to see into the future, I should say, and be able to adapt ahead of time, to be proactive and say, this is something that will be needed in the future. And just because it's never been done that way doesn't mean we can't do it that way. So thank you for branching out. Thank you for leading in new directions and for being bold and creating positive change that is really going to help people for generations to come. So thank you for that.

Richard Barnhouse: Thank you so much for the opportunity.

Linda J. Hansen: Yeah, well, thank you for the interview. And if people want to reach you, they can go to Wctc.edu and listeners, you can reach him there through the website. And anything. Else you want to say before you close.

Richard Barnhouse: I think that as well, if you're in business and industry, I think that it is totally appropriate and almost imperative that you reach out and really sort of demand things from the college and university that's in your area. And then if you're not getting what you need to set up an appointment and start talking to whether it's a dean or I'll be quite honest with you, I get a lot of calls that aren't for me. But it's somebody in business and industry that just needs to talk to the person who's over Program X because they've got some things that they want to talk about. And so if you don't feel you're being served by your local college or university, please let them know. I think most will probably try and work to meet your needs, but we really need to know, beyond the textbook what is going on in industry. And if you can help colleges and universities, even by pushing them a little bit or making a few demands, that makes us all better and helps us deliver for you that are out there and need the workforce well, and that.

Linda J. Hansen: Creates a brighter future for all. So thank you. Yes, thank you. All right, thank you again and hope to have you back and you can tell us how programs are progressing.

Richard Barnhouse: Great. Thank you so much.

Linda J. Hansen: Thank you again for listening to the Prosperity 101 Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, share, and leave a great review. Don't forget to visit Prosperity101.com to access the entire podcast library to order my newest book, Job Security Through Business Prosperity: The Essential Guide to Understanding How Policy Affects Your Paycheck or to enroll you or your employees in the Breakroom Economics online course. You can also receive the free e-book, 10 Tips for Helping Employees Understand How Public Policy Affects Their Paychecks. Freedom is never free. Understanding the foundations of prosperity and the policies of prosperity will help you to protect prosperity as you become informed, involved, and impactful. Please contact us today at Prosperity101.com to let us know how we can serve you. Thank you.