History of Madison Area Technical College

Madison Area Technical College today is known for its real world smart approach to learning, offering students in Wisconsin innovative, high tech career programs and college transfer opportunities. Even from the college's humble trade school beginning, Madison College has reflected the world around it MATC Circa 1912and met the needs of learners in that world.

Madison College began in 1912 as the Madison Continuation School, charged with providing vocational education to 14- to 16-year-old dropouts. Immediately, the school’s administrators found that their target audience, and their parents, were not enthusiastic about the school, but that adult workers were quite interested in learning skills and techniques to help them advance in their current jobs or obtain new ones. To provide citizenship and homemaking classes to the city’s Italian and Jewish immigrant population, the Madison Continuation School hired two social workers for Neighborhood House, Madison’s settlement house.

In 1921, the school moved into its own building, located next to Madison’s high school, and became known as the Madison Vocational School. Its location reflected a continued connection to high-school students, but the school also offered day and evening courses for adults. During the 1920s, the Vocational School became the rehearsal and performance space for Madison Civic Music, the forerunner of today’s Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Becoming a transfer institution

By 1930, it became clear that a growing number of adult students were taking classes at the Madison Vocational School with an eye toward transferring to the University of Wisconsin. Wisconsin advisors even suggested some students take Vocational School courses before apMATC Early Classplying to the University of Wisconsin.

During the 1930s, the Madison Vocational School responded to the Great Depression. The school increased its craft offerings, with particular emphasis on millinery, woodworking and chair-caning. Finding new areas for what is now called adult and continuing education helped the college survive this period, a time when community colleges around the United States folded. Reflecting the fact that adults, rather than high-school age children or students of traditional college age, were a growing percentage of the student body, the college was renamed the Madison Vocational and Adult School.


Thanks to federal funding of “National Defense” courses, the Madison Vocational and Adult School offered MATC Women in Automotive Programcourses 24 hours a day during the 1942-43 academic year. Courses that met on the third shift taught skills necessary for wartime jobs, mostly in manufacturing. Traditional programs incorporated wartime subjects into their curricula; the Homemaking Department taught courses titled “Consumer Interests in Wartime” and a child-development course called “Children in Wartime.”

Facing challenges in a post-war economy

Madison’s postwar economy drove the curriculum of the Madison Vocational and Adult School in new directions. Madison’s emergence as a regional center for hospitals and medical research prompted the expansion of the school’s programs in Health Occupations. Madison’s increasingly cosmopolitan nature and general prosperity meant that Madisonians valued good restaurants, which led to the Culinary Institute for training chefs. Increased opportunities in skilled trades led to the building of a second campus on Madison’s Commercial Avenue.

By the 1960s, several factors drew what had become known as the Madison Vocational, Technical, and Adult Schools toward creating more courses, in a coherent two-year program, that would transfer to four-year colleges. The college wanted to build a new power plant, using a Federal grant that was only available to accredited colleges. As more programs were created in the Health Occupations area, professional organizations required that their staff be trained at accredited schools. And, there was a desire across much of the Madison area for a community college in town, following a model of low-cost, open-access to higher education that had become popular in most other states. Beginning with the 1966-67 academic year, the college offered a small lineup of college-transfer courses that would grow over the next several years into one of the college’s most popular programs.

Growing to meet community needs

At this same time, the state of Wisconsin began to consolidate its city-based technical institutes into regional networks of colleges, with central and satellite campuses. District 4 of the Wisconsin Technical College System became known as Madison Area Technical College, and encompassed existing colleges in Fort Atkinson, Portage, Reedsburg and Watertown. New buildings went up at these campuses in the 1970s.

By the late 1970s, it was clear that the main campus for the college in downtown Madison was too small to meet the increased demand for training. While everyone agreed that the district needed to build a new main building, it took several years to select a new site acceptable to all. Finally, the MATC Circa 1967district chose Truax Field, a former Air Force base adjoining the Dane County Regional Airport, and broke ground in 1986. Classes began at the new site a year later.

The new building offered more space to expand to meet the needs of even more college-bound students. The computer revolution was on, and almost every program from business to automotive to graphic design incorporated computers into the curriculum. The college added several new programs in information technology and introduced innovative methods of delivery such as video and online offerings.

Approaching the new century, Madison College continued to update curriculum, programs and facilities to keep up with the rapid pace of changing technology, adding new programs in cutting edge fields such as biotechnology and renewable energy. Working through partnerships with the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee School of Engineering and several other institutions, the college also added expanded college transfer opportunities.

Over the past several years Madison College has grown in physical space to serve increasing enrollments.  In 2010 the community gave the college a vote of confidence by passing a $133.7 million referendum to fund the Smart Future Facilities Plan.  With funding from the referendum the college added new buildings at the Truax Campus focusing on Protective Services and Health Education, and completed additions at the four regional campuses.  A new Gateway entrance was added to the current Truax campus, as well as a new Ingenuity Center wing that focuses on manufacturing and technical trades.  

The college celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012 and continues to grow.  Construction is underway at Truax Campus that includes an expansion of the Culinary Arts Program and remodeling to enhance the Baking/Pastry Arts and Barber Cosmetology programs.  Remodeling will also occur to enhance student services such as cafeteria and food service operations, Student Life, Student Development, Student Career Services, and the Student Den.

In the twenty-first century, Madison College continues to offer training for “gold-collar” jobs in the “dot-com economy” of biotech and agriculture, as well as its traditional role preparing students for careers in the skilled trades, culinary arts and to transfer to four-year colleges.

Since 1912, Madison College has been here to prepare each new generation to meet the challenges of a changing world.  Join us as we celebrate 100 years and begin our next century of student success!