Nicolet Launches CBE Manufacturing Learning Lab

Nicolet Area Technical College in Rhinelander, Wisconsin has taken another step in their CBE journey, opening a competency-based manufacturing learning lab in April 2022. Nicolet, a member of Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), invested over $2 million to renovate and improve technology in their manufacturing building, Birchwood Center. Birchwood will now house Nicolet’s suite of manufacturing programs, including the Welding, Industrial Mechanical Technician, Industrial Maintenance Mechanic, Electromechanical Technology, and Industrial Electronics Technician programs.

The improved manufacturing programs are part of Nicolet’s impressive CBE initiative that began in 2018. Alyssa Borski from Nicolet describes the institution’s approach to CBE:

“[CBE] fits around the student’s life. You can really be independent and complete your courses at your own time and your own pace. CBE classes can be completed anywhere you have access to the internet. There’s no structured due dates or deadlines. The self-paced aspect is truly beneficial for our students.”

The connection between manufacturing and CBE is particularly important in Wisconsin. Matthew Kirchner, TechEd Podcast host and Wisconsin manufacturer, shared: “Manufacturing is the number one contributor to our economy here in the state [of Wisconsin], contributing $65 billion in annual GDP, with half a million people in Wisconsin working in manufacturing.”

Jeff Labs, Dean of Trade, Industry, and Appreticeship and Kate Farrel, President of Nicole College with Matthew Kirchner, President of LAB Midwest

Nicolet’s investment in the CBE-based manufacturing learning lab gives students a head start, allowing them to complete a degree in a high-demand, high-wage field at their own pace. According to Kirchner, 1 in 6 people in the Wisconsin workforce work in manufacturing, making an average salary of $75,000. He shares that students in the program will “have an amazing, life-supporting, family-supporting, sustainable career in the world of manufacturing.”

The new learning lab also integrates key components of what Kirchner refers to as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Nicolet manufacturing students will learn critical skills driving the future of work, including artificial intelligence and smart technology. Kirchner shared: “That’s why investments like [Nicolet’s] are so important. We have to make sure that our students are learning cutting edge technology.”

Institutions from Illinois, California, and Kentucky with Kate Farrel, President of Nicolet College.

On April 14, Nicolet opened the learning lab, sharing their work with institutions from Illinois, California, and Kentucky. C-BEN, also in attendance, is proud to see Nicolet’s CBE efforts grow. C-BEN President Dr. Charla Long expressed support: “The work that Nicolet College has done around CBE is extensive. The launch of this new learning lab is evidence of the growing movement of CBE, and we hope institutions around the nation see Nicolet’s efforts for what it is: the future of higher education.”

About the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN)

C-BEN is a network of institutions, employers, and experts who believe competencies can unlock the future of learning — making education and training more flexible, responsive, and valuable. We support stakeholders across the spectrum of competency-based learning, from institutions and employers who want to embed competencies into their existing programs to those looking to design full competency-based degree programs from the ground up. For more information, visit

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