Behind the List with William Griscom
president of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology
Q: How would you describe your college and the education it offers to students?
A: We are a fully accredited two-year technical college that offers one-year certificates and two-year associate degrees. We have an enrollment of approximately 900 students, and we have about 19 majors.
We are a residential college, and we provide a grant for students who are financially disadvantaged. About 50 percent of our students are on a grant — that’s room, board, tuition and $250 a semester for books and their tools.
What changes have you seen in the trade school industry in the last few years, and how have those changes affected your college?
I don’t look at it as an industry myself. I see it as postsecondary education. We are wholly owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania … (which) allows us to provide high-quality education at a very affordable cost.
What I see, in terms of issues, is that we just do not have enough quality technical education programs in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at these levels. We had a career fair about three months ago, and we had 125 employers. They were trying to recruit, among other things, our machinists.
What I don’t think people understand is that companies are competing in a global marketplace. Labor costs are much higher here than they are in these other countries, so … their only sustainable competitive advantage is the productivity, the innovativeness and the creativity and confidence of their workforce.
So if companies can’t even get a machinist for two years, how can they compete? How can our economy in Central Pennsylvania and across the commonwealth get better and grow?
The workplace has changed over the years. Today, the amount of skill that’s required and the amount of competence has ever increased. You can’t just be a shade tree mechanic; you have to understand computers and electronics if you’re working on vehicles. We need these people, but industry can’t get them.
Yet … we produced 12,000 teachers last year for 3,000 jobs. I think there’s a significant mismatch between the needs of our economy and what we’re producing out of our higher-education system.
Have there been changes in student enrollment in the past five years? What do you think caused those changes?
Yes, it has grown exponentially. We should be up to 2,000 students within the next 10 years, and we’re going to add new programs.
I think in this country … we’ve always said that the path to the middle class was a four-year college degree. But today I think the average student loan debt out of a four-year program is about $30,000, and some … are significantly more than that. And the graduates aren’t getting jobs.
I do believe students are starting to see that and consider other options, and one of those is a technical education. Not only do we place 95 percent of our graduates, but these are at salaries that meet or exceed that of four-year college graduates.
It wouldn’t be uncommon at all for one of our HVAC technicians, electrical technicians or machine shop technicians, within two to four years, to be making $70,000 or $75,000 a year.
We’re not the solution for everybody, but we are an option they need to be aware of.
Have you added any new programs or degrees in recent years? Have you had to drop any programs?
We dropped one program: respiratory care. … We just didn’t see the jobs out there. We will not have a program at this institution where there is not going to be a good, high placement rate at family-sustaining wages.
We have added a number of programs like computer networking and systems administration. We’re looking at adding home remodeling in the future, diesel mechanics, a welding program and probably a wastewater program.
What does the future look like for Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology?
I think it looks very bright. We plan to add facilities, double enrollment and continue our same performance right now. We think we’ll continue to progress and graduate our students at a very high rate. …
There are jobs right here in Pennsylvania for them. They don’t have to leave. We’re not part of the brain drain — we’re part of the brain gain and have been for 100 years. We will continue to have a close relationship with industry and business and keep our programs affordable.
About William Griscom
William Griscom has been president of Lancaster-based Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology since 1996. He is a former professor, division chairman and director of economic development.
Griscom earned a two-year degree at Salem Technical Institute, a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree at Rowan University, and a master’s degree and doctorate in education at West Virginia University.
The 65-year-old lives in Lancaster County with his wife, and he has two children and three grandchildren. He also enjoys photography.