Liz Wallace, Resource Development Specialist, explained that Western Technical College in La Crosse’s goal is to make sure students get a quality education that helps them change lives. However, navigating the educational system can be particularly difficult for students from low income or first generation households.
Female students face additional barriers to higher education that impact their success at a post-secondary institution, especially when these students are working or parenting.
Western’s Educational Access for Women program was developed to address some of the obstacles students experience. This year the program focused on assisting women enrolled in non-traditional occupation programs.
In the 2019-2020 academic year, 292 women enrolled in non-traditional occupation programs at Western including: automotives, criminal justice, bio-medical electronics, IT-web and software development, woodworking, among many other programs.
Careers in these industries employ men at higher rates, and Western is working to reduce the social and economic barriers to women pursuing non-traditional occupations in the La Crosse area.
Non-traditional occupations allow quicker entrance into the workforce and competitive compensation for employees. Women can earn up to 20-30 percent more in a non-traditional career, and non-traditional occupations such as construction have some of the lowest gender pay gaps.
The number of women entering non-traditional careers has consistently grown since 2011. Staff at Western predict that the number of women entering trade programs in La Crosse will continue to increase in the coming years due to more programs supporting womens’ entry into traditionally male dominated fields.
This year, Western expects to serve over 40 women through the Educational Access for Women program, helping them purchase supplies that cannot be bought on campus or with traditional scholarship funding, such as uniforms, safety equipment, and welding supplies.
After filing a request for funding, students meet with a financial counselor who uses an individualized approach to identify and meet students’ needs.
The women supported through this program are dedicated to making their lives better for themselves and their loved ones. Many of them have limited support systems and are trying to be a role model for their children or other family members.
This grant also supports the Cavalier Cupboard, a campus food pantry that provides items such as diapers and menstrual products. Last year, Western served 168 women through the Cavalier Cupboard and approximately one-third of all students who access the pantry have children.
The Educational Access for Women program has served women pursuing their degree at Western Technical College for over ten years by addressing barriers to education and success.