Focus on Careers: University Transfer Program

Focus on Careers: University Transfer Program

AA/AS degree and transfer option celebrates a milestone

| By: Daley-Hinkens, Carmelyn M

It has been an exciting 12 months since FVTC officially signed several articulation agreements that allow students to earn an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree from FVTC and transfer to partner colleges to pursue a bachelor's degree.

With more than 160 students already part of the transfer program, Dr. Brenda Raad, dean of General Studies and Henry Merrill, associate dean of General Studies fielded questions about the educational options on WHBY's Focus on Careers with Hayley Tenpas.

The interview covered what kinds of classes fall within each of these associate degrees and why students are finding this to be a flexible and affordable way to start college.

Tap the video to listen to the interview or scroll down to read the transcript.



Tenpas: Welcome back everybody. One of my favorite segments here is our Focus on Careers with Fox Valley Technical College, an opportunity to look at some of those careers of promise and the programs that help our students out there to connect to that career. And today, something that every student will have to go through some of those general studies courses. And, we're also going to celebrate an anniversary here today, learning more about how this General Studies program is reaching a milestone with Fox Valley Technical College. So, let's welcome two voices here today. First, Doctor Brenda Raad, the dean of General Studies. Hello to you, Doctor Raad. Thanks for being here today.

Raad: Thank you, Hayley. Glad to be here.

Tenpas: Also with us, is the associate dean of General Studies, Henry Merrill. Henry, good to see you.

Merrill: Good to see you, Hayley.

Tenpas: Thanks for being here. And I love hearing a bit about your connections with the college. So, Henry, tell us a little bit about your role and how long you've been with Fox Valley Tech.

Merrill: My role is associate dean. I get to oversee our math and sciences department. Uh, part of the non-academic part is student support in our testing and tutoring areas. So, I've been doing that for about ten years. Prior to that, I was a physics teacher at the college and did that for 25 years. So, it's 35 years since I've been there. It's been great.

Tenpas: It sounds like a wonderful journey. Doctor Raad, I'll turn to you, tell us a little bit about your role and how long you've been with Fox Valley Tech.

Raad: Well, Hayley, I serve as the dean of General Studies at Fox Valley. I've been there a little over a year, but I've been with the Wisconsin Technical College System for close to 15 years, and I've served as an adjunct faculty counselor, associate dean of the health areas and then dean of General Studies. I just love the love the mission and love being there.

Tenpas: Yes, and a lot of different spaces to sit in and learn from over the years, it looks like. So, we're talking about general studies. What are general studies for someone who might be unfamiliar with that term? Tell us what it covers at Fox Valley Tech, Henry.

Merrill: General Studies academically cover a broad scope of areas. When we talk about the subject areas of math, natural sciences, social sciences, communication skills, world languages and cultures, each of those areas, and in a typical Associate of Applied Science degree, students would have 18 credits from their degree from those different areas pulled out. In our new A.A. and A.S. degrees, we're looking at more like 40 credits in those areas and some electives that can enhance those or take some of the things in other occupational areas as well.

Tenpas: Interesting. We're going to get to those degrees in just a bit. But I'm curious, Doctor Raad, can you tell us what the benefits of general studies courses are to students? Why is it important that they have those 18 or 40 credits? Why is it important?

Raad: You know, they are so incredibly important. Those are the skills that help you to be employable. And I know some people talk about soft skills or durable skills. You know, those skills that everyone needs to be able to communicate, whether it's in a written format, a spoken format, you know, calculating all those skills that will help you keep a job once you're able to get one. So, just valuable skills for life.

Tenpas: Excellent. Okay. So, let's talk about this milestone that I mentioned earlier. One year ago, the college began a process to accept students interested in your university transfer programs. You mentioned those Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees. So, explain more about this transfer degree and this milestone.

Merrill: In the Wisconsin Technical College System, five original colleges could offer the university transfer -- the Associate of Arts and Associate of Science because they did not have the two-year UW campuses nearby. So that's where they originally came up with that. In 2021, we started talking about options. Students were coming to us and still going on, but we didn't have a straight-line agreement for them. So, we started working on that and in 2021 our Wisconsin Technical College System board said, ‘Yes, let's move forward.’ Then the process worked through several steps: the UW Board of Regents is part of that decision process and approving that. From that step, our accreditation body, the Higher Learning Commission, needed to permit us. And all of that ended up getting done through 2022. So, in December of 2022, we finally got that opportunity to get our system set up and accept applications. So, a little over a year, on December 5th of 22, that happened. And now we've been at it for a year and things are going great. I'm excited.

Tenpas: How has it benefited the students? What are you seeing? What are you hearing?

Merrill: Well, in our program right now, in just that one year, we've had close to 160 students who have enrolled in the program. The applications are coming in. That includes students starting those courses last spring, this fall and even more coming on in the spring as new ones. So right now, 160 total.

Tenpas: That’s great news. There are some differences though between the programs. Doctor Raad, can you tell us what differentiates the Associate of Arts from the Associate of Science? Or what kind of differences are we talking about here?

Raad: The differences, I think, apply mostly to what your plans are when you go on for your bachelor's degree. So, the Associate of Arts degree focuses more on the humanities area. So, the communications languages, and the social sciences where the Associate of Science degree will have a lot more emphasis on the science courses and the math courses. So, of course, if a student is planning to pursue a bachelor's degree in math, sciences, or engineering, it would be best to take that degree.

Tenpas: All right. You filled us in on some of the classes that they're taking. I know for myself that I would have pursued that Associate of Arts path as a person sitting in a communications position. That’s fantastic. We're going to take a short break.

Tenpas: Welcome back to Focus Fox Valley on WHBY. It's our Focus on Careers with Fox Valley Technical College; we're learning and highlighting more about the university transfer, Associate of Arts, and Associate of Science degrees. A newer chapter for Fox Valley Tech. We have Henry Merrill and Doctor Brenda Raad with us here today with the General Studies programs. And I know Doctor Raad, you wanted to highlight some more of the benefits for students. And, you know, I'm thinking of parents who might be listening, grandparents listening, some students out there, you never know. What benefits can you share with them that might nudge them into pursuing this? Maybe sticking around more locally for a year after high school or something like that?

Raad: there are just so many reasons why this is such a great degree for our students and our community. It is a great close-to-home option that is taught by high-quality instructors, but also at a very reasonable tuition rate. You know, we work hard to keep our rates reasonable. And more students and parents are trying to find affordable options. And not all students are going away to college or have that desire. They do want to get career-ready as soon as possible. And with the Associate of Arts or Associate of Science, just having that two-year degree alone helps you be eligible for higher-level employment. Making a higher salary. It's also a great option for students who aren't exactly sure what they want to do. They know they want to earn a bachelor's degree at some point, but they don't know where they want to go or what they want to major in. So, working on your general education courses and taking those electives, you get to explore a bit and get exposure to the technical college. And there’s another program that they're interested in that leads them to a career.

We're also excited that students who are in these programs can study abroad, take world languages, just, you know, expand their horizons and learn a lot and grow as a person while they're with us. Our experiences are very hands-on. So, the way that classes are taught at the technical college is a little bit different philosophically than some of the four-year universities, and our students comment on enjoying that and enjoying the care that they get while they're at Fox Valley Technical College. All the people that I interact with too, they just care about our students so much and are helpful. And that's one of the things that keep our students coming back and help them be successful is all those people that are helping to hold them up and get through their programs.

Tenpas: That's such a great point because sometimes students aren’t ready for that full dive into a four-year program, or living away from home, or are just uncertain about what the future might hold for them. And this offers an opportunity for the next step without necessarily needing to know the next step.

Merrill: You know that idea of starting a little bit slowly? You know, they can look at how many credits they want to take, and they can take 12 to 15. They've got summer options that they can pick things up with. We have a winter term and that’s a four-week session. So gradually picking up those credits, building their confidence, building a resume, if you will, of the skills they’ve developed so far. They've had their communication skills courses and speech writing courses that start that process. That’s the interest that takes them off into a further career. Or they started with some of the sciences. They’ve had a chemistry or a physics or a biology course and said, boy, that's interesting. I want to get more lab-type courses. And so, they pursue that. But this is the place they can get started. And again, as Brenda said, it is not a high cost to do that.

Tenpas: I love that a lot of people are trying to be smart about finances, that element is key in this as well. So again, we're one year in and we're looking to start a new semester in January already. Um, any guess thoughts on the past year and what that has brought journey-wise for those students?

Merrill: I think one of the things that's exciting for our students is the new courses. This has caused us to develop, you know, we've expanded our world languages, you know, starting in the fall beyond Spanish, which is common. We're going to be able to offer our Japanese course. And I think that's neat. Uh, partners with Lakeland University, which is also at our campus. And they've got a place over there, too. So that's a neat connection that we might get going on. Uh, the other literature courses, which wasn't something that was required of students before, but many of our transfer institutions would like students to have that in their background. So, we started to offer those courses as well. So those, higher-level sciences, all those things have been things to develop, getting our faculty involved and opportunities for students.

Tenpas: Fantastic. Anything else you can think of to add to this program and what it brings to Fox Valley Tech?

Raad: Well, one other thing that I'd like to bring up, and I wish this program were available when my daughter first started college, but she had the benefit of taking some courses over the summer. So even students that are home on break over January, or they have the summer available to take some courses. I know my daughter took a couple of our courses in the program, transferred them back to her university, and is going to end up graduating in three years. So, there are a lot of options just for our local community students to pick up some of those extra credits as well.

Tenpas: All right. Something to keep in mind. We're running out of time here, but I know the website to share Henry and Brenda, thank you so much for being here. It's been a pleasure to talk with you both.