by Sarah Bertsch for the Mitchell Daily Republic, November 29, 2016
New collaborative efforts are brewing between Mitchell’s two post-secondary institutions.
For years, Mitchell Technical Institute and Dakota Wesleyan University have worked together in some capacity, according to DWU’s Dean of Admissions Fredel Thomas, but with new programs in the making, the partnership is growing stronger.
DWU and MTI have taken steps to make it easier on students who want to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree. This includes the newest program, which combines MTI’s agriculture business degree with DWU’s business program. Students involved in this collaborative program will have the ability to take classes from Mitchell Tech while attending Dakota Wesleyan.
And it all began when more students began showing an interested in both agriculture and business.
“We were starting to see more interested in ag-business and technical programs with a side of business so we were looking for ways to better serve these students,” Thomas said. “There is a need for both types of education, for a Mitchell Tech education as well as ours.”
After sitting down with officials at MTI, the program was formed, allowing for students to simultaneously attend both institutions for an ag-business bachelor’s degree.
But the partnership goes beyond the ag-business program. Dakota Wesleyan is also partnering with the South Dakota Leadership Academy at Mitchell Tech, to allow for participants to earn credits toward DWU’s bachelor’s and master’s programs. Thomas said DWU will work with these students, all with varying levels of education, to grant credits and finish their degrees.
The two institutions are also working to host a joint event for high school counselors in February. At the event, Thomas said, there will be training and information available to familiarize the counselors with both institutions and the changes and programs that will be offered to students.
“We know that there is a need for education from both types of schools and it just makes sense to just work together and create that workforce,” Thomas said. “Mitchell as a community, you know 15,000-person community, we have two amazing institutions that are educating students in different ways. We need both.”
Thomas said the institutions share a “nice, close partnership” which also allows for MTI students to easily finish a bachelor’s degree with Dakota Wesleyan after obtaining their two-year associate’s degree at Mitchell Tech. DWU accepts associate’s degrees from MTI and other technical schools, allowing students to earn a bachelor’s degree, online or on campus, in two years.
The partnership has allowed for student to benefit in ways they couldn’t before, said Carol Grode-Hanks, the dean of academics at MTI. Now, students can “continue on with their educational goals,” she said.
“The whole point of that is saying is that whatever you’ve earned at Mitchell Tech is not lost,” Grode-Hanks said. ” … That’s a really big bonus. It’s really nice that our students can continue an educational dream that might not have been a reality or able to happen at all up until this opportunity with Wesleyan.”
Benefitting the regional workforce
While the partnership between the institutions will benefit students, it will also an impact on the regional workforce.
According to Jacki Miskimins, the regional workforce coordinator for the Mitchell Area Development Corporation, the pathways being developed are “really impressive.”
“Having these programs aligned in the way that they are is going to be real positive to admissions to the two schools,” Miskimins said. “This is so unique, we might get some additional students look at these programs. Higher enrollments is always good for our regional workforce because we have such a great retention rate from the two schools.”
Miskimins describes the partnership between the institutions as “innovative and unique,” especially with DWU accepting associate’s degrees from MTI.
Having a technical degree and a bachelor’s degree will be a “powerful combination” for these graduates, Miskimins said, and very beneficial for area businesses.
“It really speaks to strength of these institutions and their commitment and responsiveness to our area and to the needs of our students and to the needs for our local employers,” Miskimins said. “That’s something that both schools have been very committed to.”