What Have Local Universities Learned From 2020?

Educators have had to innovate to get through the last year.

The rollercoaster year of empty dorms, virtual learning and hesitant re-openings appears to slowly be coming to an end for Wisconsin colleges, as institutions prepare for in-person classes next fall. But the lessons learned from this time of pandemic will reverberate years into the future.

“Higher education really needs to focus on making its operation as student-focused and high-value as possible,” says John Swallow, president of Carthage College.

That means less cost upfront and more value post-grad. Carthage has made a priority of financial aid, so the average student pays less in tuition now than 10 years ago. And Carthage’s Aspire program aims to prepare students for the shifting job market. When freshmen register for the first semester of classes, they meet with their career adviser to integrate the curriculum with professional opportunities.

“If you’re a history or an art major or many other liberal arts majors, for a very long time there weren’t many internship opportunities for those,” says Daniel Scholz, interim president of Cardinal Stritch University. “We’ve now built that into the curriculum with our professional core.” Cardinal Stritch overhauled its curriculum in 2020 to give students more freedom and marketable experience. Students shape their own majors with interdisciplinary classes and take courses on internships, net- working and developing professional skills that lead to industry connections.

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At Milwaukee School of Engineering, the need to prepare students for the job market takes form in a focus on new technologies. MSOE’s tech is invigorating departments far beyond just computer science.

“The use of virtual reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning is coming to the building design and construction industry, and it will revolutionize the industry,” says Christopher Raebel, chair of the civil and architectural engineering and construction management department. “Designs can now be experienced in an amazingly realistic format before construction even starts.“

Using MSOE’s Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality laboratory, students interact with enhanced three-dimensional designs. With the only accredited architectural engineering program in Wisconsin, they have a unique chance to enter a growing, high-demand field.

“The world that our students are going into isn’t as compartmentalized as it was 50 years ago,” Scholz adds. “The ability for students to work with people not like them, to be creative, to communicate, to adapt is crucial.”

Helping Out

College educations come with a price tag, often a pretty nasty one. Paying for it is a hurdle nearly every student faces. UW Credit Union began offering “family student loans” to allow a student’s loved ones to help. Parents, family members and friends can take out a loan for up to $15,000 per school year to go toward the student’s education with repayment options of 5, 10 and 15 years. UWCU also offers traditional student loans that go directly to the student, but family loans have proven attractive as a way for loved ones to support their future college grad.

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The Admissions Tango


EVERY SPRING, tens of thousands of American students compete for limited spots at the nation’s top colleges. “This past year has only accelerated the pace of change in the college admissions process,” says Joshua Labove, dean of admission at Wayland Academy, a boarding high school in Beaver Dam.

The increasingly complex process demands that high schools adapt. At Wayland, students are paired with a counselor to guide them. First off, choosing the right class schedule is crucial. Wayland offers 24 Advanced Placement classes, which strengthen an application. Beyond academics and testing, Labove emphasizes the importance of writing skills and points also to Wayland’s Capstone program, which allows students to pursue a major academic, volunteer or creative project their senior year, from making a documentary to translating a novel from English to Chinese, which can help a college application stand out.

“By cultivating these skills early on, you’re not just making a savvy college shopper and someone who will stand out in the college admissions pro- cess,” says Labove, “but someone that will thrive when they get there.”


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s May issue.

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