MILWAUKEE (SPECTRUM NEWS)- New data shows enrollment at four-year colleges continues to decline across the country.  The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports it fell off by about 250,000 students from 2018 to 2019.  

Total enrollment throughout the University of Wisconsin system has gone down by 6,562 students from where it was in 2009.  UW is Wisconsin’s largest college system.  

More programs are now being offered to Wisconsin high school students that give them other career options, in place of a four-year degree.  

17-year-old Dayce Woodard is one of 35 juniors and seniors in the Milwaukee Public School system participating in an internship at We Energies.  

“The demo day is what really set it off for me,” says Dayce.  “Going up in the bucket lift, driving the backhoe and the digger trucks, and learning about climbing, that all really interested me.”

Dayce attends Bradley Tech High School in Milwaukee.  Currently, We Energies is partnering with MPS to offer three internships/apprenticeships to students.  Dayce is one of 11 students enrolled in the electric field internship this year.  The other options offered are the design youth apprenticeship program and the gas line program.  

Dayce has chosen this path, instead of pursuing a four-year degree.

“It’s way cheaper, first of all, and second of all, I enjoy it,” Dayce says.  “It’s not something I have to drag myself to, I come to work and enjoy it.”

When Dayce says work, he means it.  The two-year program begins during a student’s junior year in high school.  That summer before senior year, interns work forty hours per week, paid.  

“We wanted to make sure the students know it’s okay if they don’t want to go to college and we have a career right here,” says Program Manager Jennifer Buchanan.  “Gainful employment, no student loans attached, and they can be just as successful.”

The We Energies internship program has been going on for three years.  Though it is not directly because of this drop in four-year college enrollment, it comes at a critical time.  The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center also reports enrollment has decreased by 11%, or 2.3 million students since 2011. To view trends across Wisconsin from the state's Department of Public Instruction, click here

“I did go to college, I tried that first,” says Mark Schmidt, who spends a lot of time training the kids.  “I ended up here and that’s not a bad thing.”

Mark is one of the head trainers for We Energies.

“When I found out about this program, I was super excited about it,” Mark says.  “I think it does everything I was looking for in my career.” 

Dayce says he plans to attend Milwaukee Area Technical College after he graduates, to further pursue a career as a line mechanic.  The program through We Energies allows graduates to apply for an MATC scholarship, geared towards their line mechanic education. 

The design youth apprenticeship program allows students to accumulate up to 12 college credits that will transfer to MATC upon graduation.