Looking Ahead with Dr. Matheny

Dr. Chris Matheny

Looking Ahead with Dr. Matheny

Priorities continue to focus on students, team, employers & community

| By: Britten, Casey

As the 2023-24 academic year kicks off, Fox Valley Technical College President Dr. Chris Matheny has been in his role at the helm of the college for two years. While individual efforts continue to change and evolve, the overarching goals for FVTC remain the same: students first, followed by the team and organization, regional employers, and community partners.

Dr. Matheny was recently interviewed by Hayley Tenpas during WHBY’s Focus on Careers segment to talk about what’s on the horizon for FVTC, including trending careers, dual credit, apprenticeship and continuing to meet the needs of our local community and employers.

Read the interview below or tap the video link to listen to the conversation.


Tenpas: You're listening to Focus Fox Valley on WHBY. Time now for our Focus on Careers segment. Very excited to welcome back I believe for the third or fourth season here of Focus on Careers. Either way it's been a great opportunity for us to connect with Fox Valley Technical College and highlight careers happening right now over at FVTC. And today to kick start our new season of learning is Dr. Chris Matheny, the president over at Fox Valley Technical College. Dr. Matheny, good to see you. Welcome back to the show.

Matheny: Great to be with you, Hayley.

Tenpas: Happy start of the school year.

Matheny: Yeah, it's a beautiful day outside and can't ask for a better start, right?

Tenpas: No. And to walk through campus and take advantage of all that Fox Valley Tech has to offer, it's a beautiful place to learn and to and to work, I would imagine.

Matheny: I left our campus today and saw our surveying students out on the grounds practicing their skills. There's just nothing better than that.

Tenpas: All right. Well, you're two years into your role as president at Fox Valley Tech. Can you believe that? It's been two years.

Matheny: No, it's gone really quickly.

Tenpas: But the second full school year upon you, you're a few weeks in, though you've started, I believe in August.

Matheny: Yeah. We started late August and welcomed our faculty back about mid-August and then students back the week after that. So we've been at this for a few weeks now.

Tenpas: All right. So first thoughts on the start of the fall semester at Fox Valley Tech. What's the highlight reel been like for everyone?

Matheny: Yeah. So the highlights really what I mentioned earlier and that's always for me is students and having our students come back and fill our hallways and campuses and get to see and feel the energy back in the building. I've had a number of faculty and staff comment to me over the last weeks that it's starting to feel normal again. Parking lots are filling up. I'm having trouble finding a parking spot, so I always love when people come in and say to me that they can't find a spot in our lots. And I'm very happy about that because that means that our classrooms and labs are full of students who are learning and figuring out what they want to do with their lives and preparing for their careers.

Tenpas: Interesting. Curiosity: do you have a number of students that are studying currently at Fox Valley Tech? Are you able to put a bracket on that at how many students you are currently serving?

Matheny: Yeah, you know, it varies a bit, but typically we have around 8000 degree and diploma students. So those are students who are seeking some sort of credential. And then if you take and look at all the students that we serve in a given year, it's somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 to 50,000. We do an awful lot of continuing education work. And so we're touching, you know, 1 in 10 people in our region nearly every year.

Tenpas: And many of those students may be still in high school or coming back for a second career opportunity. So all ages and all everyone represented, I would imagine.

Matheny: Yeah, we have a childcare center on campus, too. So eight months to 80 and everything before and after.

Tenpas: I’m one of those childcare center kids, by the way.

Matheny: Yeah, Yeah. Thought that you might be.

Tenpas: I was. Well, let's talk about what's trending career-wise. We always see waves of careers that maybe come and go. What's in demand in 2023? Where are you seeing the most interest for students?

Matheny: I think the real short answer is everything. You know, you're well-acquainted with the workforce challenges that we've had. I know you've had lots of guests on your show talking about the need for skilled workers. That happens across industries. So we're talking about everything from IT to healthcare to cybersecurity to business disciplines to marketing, culinary, right. We have service professions in which we need childcare workers. And so every time I talk to employers, what they talk about is people, people, people, right? We need to get more people. And so that's really where we've started to look at alternative programming. You mentioned dual credit. We've spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get this initial taste and short-term certificates into people's hands so that they can start work right away, go to work for our employers, you know, contribute to the good, great life that we have here in the Fox River Valley and still continue their education. And that's really been the priority for us.

Tenpas: That employment placement still around 100% for students at the moment?

Matheny: Well, I'd like to say everything's 100%, but we have, you know, tens of programs, dozens of programs actually, that are in the 100% placement range. Not every student gets placed right away within six months of their graduation, but our overall placement is well, our overall placement is well above 80% for students who complete their degrees.

Tenpas: That’s fantastic, and within six months, that's a pretty good window of time too. People might not realize, though, when students are not in session, there's a lot of strategic planning going on and idea opportunities and brainstorming for what can make that next school year or the ‘24-‘25 school year a success. I'm curious, what are strategic priorities for ‘23-‘24 at Fox Valley Tech?

Matheny: Yeah, well, our strategic priorities really haven't changed. We focus our efforts in four areas: on our students, on our team and organization, on our regional employers and on our community partners. And so we've got different initiatives that are going on within each of those areas. But that's really where we’re focusing on: students first, right? Primarily on our students, which helps feed our team's energy, gets our regional employers who they need, and then looking and working with our community partners on some of those alternative programming areas that I was talking about earlier.

Tenpas: All right. We're talking with Dr. Chris Matheny here today with Fox Valley Technical College. We'll take a short break. When we come back, though, more of the local connections Dr. Matheny is making as we Focus on Careers with Fox Valley Tech right here on WHBY.

Tenpas: We're back with more of our Focus on Careers segment with Fox Valley Technical College Dr. Chris Matheny, president of Fox Valley Technical College, joining us here today. And Dr. Matheny, I would imagine your programs are getting a lot of calls from local businesses about how many students are graduating this year. We're looking to hire. And like you mentioned, I very much so am hearing from organizations all the time on, they're looking for workers. So how are you responding to that? Are you connecting with local businesses? Are you you taking those phone calls, looking to connect students to the workforce? What does that look like in 2023 right now?

Matheny: We're always taking phone calls from our local business partners. And what I would say is that they're not even waiting till graduation, right? They're looking at how many students are coming into these programs. How do we help recruit students into these programs, things as diverse as apprenticeship. And as I mentioned earlier, early childhood education and culinary, really partnering with those business partners to train their future workforce. They know their future workforce, they can't just wait for students to come out fully skilled and graduated. And so we're looking to figure out how to drive that education deeper and drive those connections even deeper with our local employer partners.

Tenpas: It reminds me almost of athlete signings and early on in their careers potentially to get those early signing bonuses.

Matheny: It is a competition. I think there are progressive organizations that are looking at doing that. We see a lot of that, particularly in the apprenticeship areas. You know, this is an old model, 100+ year-old model in which you're taking people who don't have skills but have great potential, putting them through both a workplace experience and an academic experience, or an on-site hands-on learning experience with the college, employing them along the way. And it's really a great opportunity. You asked about 100% employment programs, all of our apprentices are 100% employed by definition of the work they're doing. And some of them, as journeyworkers, are earning upwards of $85,000 or $90,000 a year at the end of their apprenticeship. So it's really a great career opportunity. And I advise all, you know, my kids’ friends’ parents and everybody else to take a look at those options as well.

Tenpas: I think your eyes would be quite wide to see some of the yearly salaries those hands-on workforces are able to offer.

Matheny: Yeah, our average salaries are north of $50,000 a year for graduates six months out. That's with a, you know, a two-year associate degree or a technical diploma and a year or less and very little, if any, college debt. So there's a lot of discussion going on about college debt. Our degree programs can be finished for, less than $10,000 in some cases. And so that might buy you a semester elsewhere. And that's a great choice for those who want and can afford to do that. But our students have an opportunity to go on and do those things after that as well, while earning a living. And it's a really great opportunity.

Tenpas: The path to employment can start even as early as when you are in high school. I want to ask about that dual credit program. You mentioned that earlier. And when you're a high school student, you can attend classes at Fox Valley Tech. Share some of the highlights of that program, if you could, Dr. Matheny, and maybe if there's any gaps that you're working on with that, too.

Matheny: I'd just say you can not only attend classes at Fox Valley Tech, you can attend classes right in your own high school. We have high school teachers who are certified to teach dual credit. We have very talented K12 partners who can do this work. We provide them with curriculum and help them understand the programming requirements. And they're teaching their high school students our curriculum. And so those students who are participating in that coursework get both their high school transcript requirements fulfilled and can create a transcript at Fox Valley Tech and get a jump start on their college education. So last year that was about 6700 students across our district, 28 K12 schools that we serve. And that number continues to go up and up and up. We work and listen to our high school partners all the time tell us that what they really want is kids who are graduating, who are who are career and college ready, and dual credit is a way to do both.

Tenpas: You mentioned K12. Now I'm thinking, can my kindergartner get some college credits, Chris?

Matheny: We might have some placement exams that we need to put that student through, but we'll get there eventually, right?

Tenpas: It's incredible. Wow. As we kind of wrap up this first segment, and thank you so much for joining us to kind of kick start this. It's been really fun to do this over the past couple of years. I know our listeners really enjoy it, too, because they're curious, just as I am about where people are looking to work. Your outlook on the year, what are you hoping for? Any goals that you've set for the college?

Matheny: I think the biggest goal is get people exposed to the opportunities that are available at Fox Valley Tech. We've got over 200 degree, diploma and certificate programs for students, parents, grandparents, community members. Just if they’re interested to come take a look at. And while we're talking about that, Hayley, I'll just put in a little plug for our annual Open House, which is October 3rd. So for your listeners out there who may just have curiosity about what the technical college looks like or what Fox Valley Tech specifically looks like these days, come out and join us at any of our campuses or regional centers. October 3rd, 3 to 7. All of our programs will be on display will have, you know, the welcome mat rolled out for anybody who wants to come take a look at how their technical college functions.

Tenpas: Or if you're just nosy check it out.

Matheny: Just nosy. Absolutely. Come look.

Tenpas: It’s a beautiful space.

Matheny: Absolutely.

Tenpas: All right. Dr. Chris Matheny joining us. Thank you so much for your time today. Best of luck with the school year. And we'll be talking with many of the employees of Fox Valley Tech, those instructors, over the course of the next, about seven months or so, as we finish out the school year.