Celebrating 50 Years of Southwest Tech

Before the first shovel full of dirt was unearthed in a cornfield outside of Fennimore, Wisconsin, no one could have imagined what would someday be built there.

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College began its operation as Vocational, Technical and Adult Education District #3 on July 1, 1967; long before anyone realized the impact a small vocational college would have on southwest Wisconsin beyond its uniform buildings.

Southwest Wisconsin Vocational Technical School

The development process, began immediately; and during the first year, initial programs were selected, advisory committees appointed and additional staff members recruited and appointed. The Field Service Department, which was responsible for adult part-time programs to be offered throughout the district, began functioning in the fall of 1967. Classes were offered in all of the school districts, enrolling a total of 2,014 adult students during the year.

The initial building program got underway in 1968 and consisted of a shop to house the auto-tractor mechanics and welding programs. The account clerk and clerk-typist classes were held in a wood frame building known as the “White Building,” which also served as the district office until the spring of 1968. The next district office was located in the former Fennemore Hardware Store building located on Lincoln Avenue in Fennimore.

Ronald H. Anderson was appointed District Director on June 1, 1969. A comprehensive building program was inaugurated toward the development of an eight-building campus.

Also involved in the early organization was the selection and approval of full-time post-secondary programs to be offered by the institute. Programs selected for the first year of operation in 1968 were clerk-typist, account clerk, auto-tractor mechanics and welding. A glorious new era began when Southwest Vocational Technical Institute (SWVTI) opened its doors in September 1968 with enrollment of 107 students. The year progressed with extraordinary enthusiasm and a total of 104 graduated from the various programs.

The 1974-75 year was a banner year enrollment-wise in that the full-time enrollment for the first time went over 1,000 for a total of 1,149 and the part-time enrollment soared to 19,500. Building 700 was completed and the full-time course in finance was added.

The years that followed showed the addition of the following full-time programs: practical nursing, legal secretary, appliance service, mechanical schematics, cosmetology, family day care and agri-auto parts. The enrollment by 1978 had reached 1,400 full-time students and 16,000 part-time students. At the end of the 1978 year the faculty consisted of 90 full-time instructors and approximately 600 part-time instructors located throughout the district.

The Southwest Tech Foundation purchased Eastview Apartments in 1997. The apartments became the first student housing offered by the College. The Foundation purchased four units with a total of 16, two-bedroom apartments and one one-bedroom apartment.

Less than a year after the College celebrated its 40th birthday in 2007, nearly 59% of voters approved in April 2008 a $31.9 million expansion and renovation of Southwest Tech facilities and infrastructure. The successful building referendum resulted in the construction of the Health Sciences Building, Childcare Center, Agriculture/Automotive Technical Center, and Public Safety Training Complex.

In 2013, Charley’s opened. Charley’s Student Center is the place to be between, before, or after classes. Charley’s has pool tables, ping pong, shuffleboard, air hockey, movies, big screen TV’s, Xbox and Wii, computers and much more!

In 2016, Southwest Tech has been named the #1 two-year college in Wisconsin according to the most recent report conducted by bestcolleges.com. With over 88 higher education institutions in Wisconsin, Best Colleges’ 2016 findings, ranks Southwest Tech first in academic quality, affordability, and student experience. In addition to the #1 ranking Southwest Tech received from Best Colleges, Southwest Tech was ranked the #11 two-year college in the nation by WalletHub.com.

Now nearly 50 years since a handful of community legends ceremoniously broke ground in that cornfield, Southwest Tech has trained and educated tens of thousands of students that continue to influence every aspect of daily living in southwest Wisconsin.