UW Regents Vote to Merge Universities and Colleges

Whoa. This seems like it went from an idea being floated by Cross to a vote at lightening speed.

Wisconsin’s two-year UW Colleges are set to become branch campuses of nearby four-year universities by the start of the 2018 school year after the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents approved a sweeping and controversial reorganization of the schools Thursday.

The Regents backed the proposal from System President Ray Cross over concerns from former UW Colleges officials, student and faculty groups, Democratic lawmakers and two board members that it lacks key details and was made with minimal input from thoseĀ  affected by the mergers.

Cross and the plan’s supporters say it will change the unsustainable structure of the UW Colleges while ensuring the predominantly rural communities those institutions serve still have access to local higher education.

A motion to move forward with planning for the reorganization, which would also shift functions of UW Extension under UW-Madison and central System administration, was approved on a voice vote during Thursday’s Regents meeting in Madison.

I’m not a fan of this plan because it does not address the underlying problem. The problem is the demand for most the colleges is dramatically down. This is due to a variety of factors including demographics, the proliferation of online education, and cultural preferences. But instead of addressing the issue, the UW Regents are choosing to try to prop up an expensive and increasingly irrelevant campus infrastructure for the purpose of saving the campuses instead of serving the students.

One Response to UW Regents Vote to Merge Universities and Colleges

  1. jjf says:

    You’re buying what Cross is pitching without enough skepticism, and we don’t have enough investigative reporters any more to make a difference to challenge what politicians and appointees are saying.

    The 2015 regionalization greatly reduced the marketing at each two-year campus. They went from one marketing position at each campus to a traveling position that attempted to serve three campuses.

    Should we be surprised that enrollments fell? Marketing budgets were already tiny – on the order of $10,000 per campus, a drop in the bucket compared to anything that happens at UW-Madison – and so people-power made up for the lack of funds. If you don’t have someone promoting the two-year route at local high schools, your enrollments drop.

    As for demographics changing, that’s exaggerated, too. Little or no growth simply means the need for two-year schools is staying the same.

    The two-year schools were designed as “colleges of access.” They were meant to attract first-generation students. They were meant to reduce the costs of education by allowing kids to stay at home with their parents instead of a dorm or a distant city, and to make it possible for them to do it while holding a part-time job in their hometown.

    There’s also the public investment that’s been made by the counties that own these properties. They own the campuses, not the state. They’ve been the ones resurfacing the parking lots since the 1960s. If the UW closes a campus, the county will want to quickly unload the campus to, oh, I’d guess someone like Phoenix University or Upper Iowa University. Not a great recovery for a long public investment.

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