Rich Wagner, president of Dunwoody College of Technology, Minneapolis
Minnesota must keep up with
in preparing its workforce to meet the needs of employers
A Civic Caucus
Focus on Human Capital
Interview May 29 2015
John Adams, Dave Broden
(vice chair), Pat Davies, Paul Gilje (executive director), Sallie
Kemper (associate director), Dan Loritz (chair), Paul Ostrow, Bill
Rudelius, Dana Schroeder (associate director), Rich Wagner. By
phone: Randy Johnson, Clarence Shallbetter.
vibrant economy is in a lot of trouble if other states are doing a
better job of preparing their workforces to meet the needs of
employers, cautions Rich Wagner, president of Dunwoody College of
Technology in Minneapolis. Minnesota has always prided itself in
having a well-educated and well-trained workforce. But he asks when
the last time was that a manufacturing company came to Minnesota and
discusses the type of workforce training that drew Volkswagen to
locate a new factory in Chattanooga.
Wagner asserts that the skills gap in
Minnesota-between jobs available for skilled people and the number
of people qualified for those jobs-is a major problem at all skill
levels for every industry across the board. He believes training
institutions are not producing enough skilled workers to meet
employers' needs. He says a critical first step to increase the
workforce talent pool is to graduate all of our kids from high
Dunwoody takes a different approach from
most schools, Wagner says, in hiring its faculty and in helping
students who need remedial help. The school hires faculty who have
worked in the field in which they'll be teaching. And, unlike most
schools, Dunwoody allows students who need remedial help to continue
in their regular courses, while they get extra tutoring in small
classes. That way, Wagner points out, students can see the relevance
of the remedial help to their technical classes.
While Wagner admits that the Twin Cities
area is a competitive environment for higher education, he says
Dunwoody does not view the two-year colleges in the Minnesota State
Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system as direct competition. He
says the challenge those schools face is their sheer size and
bureaucracy. Dunwoody has 1,200 students, while there are 183,000
students enrolled in MnSCU's two-year schools. Dunwoody's tuition is
$18,000 a year, more than three times higher than tuition at the
MnSCU two-year colleges. But Dunwoody graduates earn an average
starting salary of $42,000 a year and the school places 99.3 percent
of its graduates in the fields for which they were trained.
Richard J. Wagner is the
ninth president of Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis. He
has served in that role since July 1, 2009.
Wagner joined Dunwoody in 1996 as an
electrical instructor. In 1999, he assumed the role of department
director and was promoted to dean of learning in 2001. In 2004,
Wagner left Dunwoody to serve as vice president for learning and
academic innovation at Hennepin Technical College. He returned to
Dunwoody a year later and served as vice president of academic
affairs from 2005 to July 2009.
Wagner earned a doctorate in educational
policy and administration from the University of Minnesota. He holds
a master's degree in business administration from the Crummer
Graduate School of Business at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.,
and a B.S. degree from the State University of New York in Albany.
Prior to entering higher education, Wagner served 10 years in the
U.S. Navy, including five years as an electrician/technical
supervisor on a nuclear submarine.
He is past president of the board of
trustees of the American Technical Education Association and a
member of the Minnesota Governor's Workforce Development Council.
The Civic Caucus has released
two recent statements on human capital: one in September 2014
laying out the human-capital challenges facing the state today and
in coming years and a
follow-up paper in January 2015
offering recommendations for maintaining
a high-quality workforce in Minnesota. The Civic Caucus interviewed
Rich Wagner to learn more about Dunwoody College and its approach to
preparing students for the workforce through certificate programs
and two-year and four-year degree programs.
Information about Dunwoody. Dunwoody
College of Technology in Minneapolis is a private, not-for-profit
institution of higher education. It offers bachelor and associate
degrees in a variety of technical fields. The college maintains
strong ties to business and industry, which help inform its program
offerings and curriculum.
The school was founded in 1914 with $3
million dollars from the estate of William Hood Dunwoody and
additional funds from the estate of his wife, Kate L. Dunwoody, who
died a year later. William Dunwoody wanted to
"provide for all time a
place where youth, without distinction on account of race, color or
religious prejudice, may learn the useful trades and crafts, and
thereby fit themselves for the better performance of life's duties."
In 1915, Dunwoody's board brought in
Charles Prosser to head what was then known as the Dunwoody
Industrial Institute. He stayed in that role until 1945. He was
known as "the Father of Vocational Education in the United States."
There's a lot of competition in the higher education landscape in
the Twin Cities. Wagner
noted that there are 10 two-year Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities (MnSCU) schools in the metro area. There have been over
40 private, for-profit institutions in the area, such as Rasmussen
College, Globe University, Brown Institute, University of Phoenix,
Adding to the challenge of the competitive
landscape is the fact that the number of high school students will
continue declining until it begins creeping up in 2017 or 2018.
Dunwoody, like most organizations, faced
challenges during the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Rich Wagner
said during the following few years, the school focused on its
mission of helping students and started exploring what it needs to
do today to lock in another 100 years. (The school celebrated its
100th year in 2014.)
The college decided to implement a
combination of strategies going forward to meet the needs of the
Minnesota workforce, expand the offering of STEM programs by
focusing on a new School of Engineering and help raise the profile
of technical education to promote more interest in technical
One part of the strategy is to take its
existing programs to underserved and underrepresented students.
Wagner said that this initiative is focused on attracting more
women, people of color and students from outside the Twin Cities and
even outside Minnesota. He said the college thinks recruiting
students from these three markets is a good strategy to bolster its
One of the implications of reaching out to
a larger geographic area, Wagner said, is the issue of where
students from outside the Twin Cities area are going to live. He
said Dunwoody is currently working on establishing a residency
program. It wouldn't involve residence halls, but might include
partnering with apartment buildings or developers or sharing living
facilities with other colleges.
Another element of Dunwoody's strategy is
to meet student's educational needs along the continuum of their
career. The college started offering 2 + 2 programs in 2007,
Wagner explained. The programs allow associate-degree graduates of
Dunwoody to come back for bachelor's degrees, with all of the first
two years of credits counting toward the new degree. He listed four
bachelor-completion programs at the college: industrial engineering,
construction management, computer systems analysis and applied
management. In 2014, Dunwoody started offering a Bachelor of
Architecture program to provide a bachelor-degree completion program
for graduates of traditional Associate in Applied Science in
Architectural Design programs. One out of four Dunwoody students is
now enrolled in one of these degree-completion programs.
Wagner said the school feels its growth
will come from new programs that will bring new students to help
close the skills gap. And it must serve the Twin Cities market.
Dunwoody's tuition is $18,000 a year, so its students must earn a
good wage when they graduate, he said. Dunwoody graduates, on
average, have a starting salary of about $42,000 a year. The school
places 99.3 percent of the students in the fields for which they
Dunwoody looked at which new programs
would be a good fit with its brand and decided to start a School of
Engineering. Dunwoody decided to start a school of engineering,
Wagner said, that will be different. "It'll serve a need in the Twin
Cities and in the state," he said. "It's going to be unique,
project-based and hands-on. It will leverage all our two-year
programs, so now the mechanical engineering program, which will
start in 2016, will have access to a full line of
computer-controlled machines, welding and robotics. We've had great
support from local industries, such as Polaris, General Mills and
The aging of our workforce is another
dynamic facing both Dunwoody and the state. "We hear from
our employers that they'll take our entire class of machinists or
construction managers," Wagner said. "While it sounds good for us,
it's bad for us, because we're not meeting the needs of industry."
The constraint that prevents expansion of
programs is primarily student and parent interest. Wagner
explained that parents who are both educated are going to convince
their high school senior to go to a four-year college, rather than a
two-year technical college. He suggested that an education model for
parents to consider is to send their kids to Dunwoody at age 18. The
students get a good value at Dunwoody at $18,000 a year and after
two years, they can get a job at $40,000 a year. They can earn some
money for a few years and then come back for a bachelor's degree at
night and their company will help pay for it. "It's a pretty good
model," Wagner said.
The press seems to talk about workforce
issues as if the skills gap-between jobs available for skilled
people and the number of people qualified for those jobs--doesn't
exist. Wagner said a Dunwoody board member in the medical device
industry says he can't find machinists, welders, or engineering
designers and drafters. "It's not just the skilled trades," Wagner
said. "It's every industry across the board."
We must graduate all of our kids from high
school. "If we did that," Wagner said, "we wouldn't have a
pipeline problem. If we fix that problem, we'll have a bigger talent
pool," he said.
Another problem is the lack of career and
technical education (CTE) in high schools. CTE is expensive and
it's easy to let those programs go, Wagner said, but we need more
CTE in high schools.
Dunwoody has a Youth Career Awareness
Program (YCAP) that provides Minneapolis high school students with
an opportunity for career exploration. Dunwoody goes into the
high schools and recruits students during their junior year, Wagner
said. Dunwoody pays the students to be on campus for six weeks in
the summer between their junior and senior years. They do career
exploration by visiting all of the school's programs, they take a
college-level class and they take a test that shows them their
During their senior year, the college
provides a mentorship on its campus once a month. If students have
met all of the obligations of the program by the time they finish
their senior year, they get a substantial scholarship to Dunwoody,
paid for from private funds raised by the college. Twenty-four high
school seniors have been accepted into the fall YCAP program.
There are more short-term training
programs, like Right Skills Now, that get people into the workforce
Wagner said Right
Skills Now is a one-semester certificate program that trains people
to go in as entry-level machine-tool operators, ensuring companies
get the skills they need now. Students can then come back and get an
associate's degree or get a bachelor's degree as an industrial
Dunwoody hires faculty who've worked in
the field in which they'll be teaching. Wagner said the college
has a "very robust teaching program" with the University of
Wisconsin-Stout to train new faculty members how to teach. And all
faculty members are required to finish their bachelor's degree, if
they don't have one. The college will help pay for people who want a
master's degree. Faculty in the arts, math and sciences all need
master's degrees and Ph.Ds and the college will help pay for those
He said Dunwoody allows faculty members to
drive their own curriculum to a large degree. The school provides
ongoing professional development opportunities for the faculty, who
are there to teach and connect to industry. They don't have to do
research or publish.
Every year Dunwoody does an environmental
scan, collecting data about the employee outlook for different
industries and doing a robust analysis of all its programs.
Dunwoody students are not discouraged by
average starting wages of $40,000, because after working in an
industry for three or four years, they'll be earning $60,000 to
$80,000 or more. Wagner said wages have been fairly stagnant
since the recession ended, but are now starting to go up. However,
he noted, there are some industries, such as the auto industry, that
haven't responded by raising their entry-level wages. "The solution
has to come from industry," he said.
Dunwoody does not view the two-year
schools in the MnSCU system as competition. Wagner said the
challenge those schools face is their sheer size and bureaucracy.
Dunwoody has 1,200 students and there are 183,000 students in the
MnSCU two-year schools.
He noted that some MnSCU two-year
technical colleges now offer transfer programs for students wanting
to move on to four-year colleges. The two-year colleges also
continue to offer the associate of applied science (AAS) degree, a
two-year technical degree. "I hope we don't dilute the
career-technical aspect of MnSCU two-year schools, just because it's
less expensive to run the transfer programs," Wagner said. "That
would be bad for the technical workforce we so desperately need."
Geographic expansion is not Dunwoody's
strategic driver right now. Wagner said employers in Winsted,
Minn., told Dunwoody they needed more welders, so the college opened
a welding facility there last year that is putting welders right
into the workforce. He said several other mayors who would like the
school to have a presence in their cities have approached the
college. "We won't rule it out, but it's not our strategic driver
now," Wagner said. "We have a campus plan to develop all of the 14
acres we own. When we fill that up, we'll look at expansion."
The key piece is teaching students how to
learn. Wagner said Dunwoody's challenge is, as technology in the
workforce changes, to be training technicians who can function in
that technology. And as technology changes, he believes the college
must be offering evening and weekend continuing education.
Dunwoody has decided to change its
approach to developmental education. A study by Complete College
America entitled "Remediation: Higher Education's Bridge to
Nowhere," illustrated the problems with traditional remedial, or
developmental, education programs. He offered an example of how
poorly he believes traditional developmental education works. He
said in those programs, if 600 students are identified as needing
developmental education, about 300 show up for it, 100 finish and
only 50 go on to take classes.
He said Dunwoody's approach is to take a
chance on some of these 600 students. The college has changed the
whole paradigm for developmental education from a prerequisite to a
co-requisite model. This means students get the help they need while
they are taking their regular classes, not before they can enroll in
"We use intrusive advising," Wagner said.
"Students start their classes and we then identify students who
need, for example, help with math." Then the college offers a small
class, taught by a math teacher partnering with a technical
instructor, to help students who are struggling in math. That
happens while the students are still taking their regular technical
classes. That helps them see the importance of what they're learning
in the math class. "It's a different way of teaching," he said.
"We're going to do everything we can do to help students achieve
Minnesota's currently vibrant economy is
in a lot of trouble if other states are doing a better job of
preparing their workforces to meet the needs of employers. "When
was the last time a manufacturing company came to Minnesota?" Wagner
asked. He recently spoke with people from Volkswagen about the
company's decision to locate a factory with 2,500 employees in
Chattanooga. The representatives said they made the decision because
they have a guaranteed workforce there. The state of Tennessee has
located a facility near the factory that is training people to meet
Volkswagen's workforce needs.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmermany,