UW’s Cross urges merging two-year colleges with four-year universities

WHITEWATER — University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Chancellor Beverly Kopper said Wednesday that she would welcome UW-Rock County were it to become a branch of her campus next July.

In a proposal announced Wednesday by University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross, UW-Rock County in Janesville — commonly called “U-Rock” — would become part of UW-Whitewater, effective July 1, 2018.

The change follows a statewide restructuring plan in which 13 two-year UW colleges will be combined with seven four-year universities in their respective regions. The plan must be approved by the UW System Board of Regents and will be considered at its November meeting.

The two-year schools would become regional branches of the four-year schools. Students still would be able to earn associate degrees, but they would bear the name of the four-year school. Students would have access to a wider range of courses and be able to take third- and fourth-year courses at the branch campus.

For example, two-year school UW-Rock County would cease to exist. Its buildings, faculty and staff in Janesville would become a branch of UW-Whitewater. Students who attend the branch campus would earn associate degrees from UW-Whitewater and could complete four-year degrees through there, as well.

The plan is designed to combat declining enrollment at the two-year schools and keep them open.

Chancellor Kopper said that the proposed restructuring would strengthen UW-Whitewater’s relationship with the people of Rock County, businesses and community organizations, as well as create new partnerships.

“You have my promise that the administration at UW-Whitewater is committed to making this potential transition as seamless as possible. We will be scheduling a visit soon to meet with faculty, staff and students at UW-Rock County to begin the process of getting acquainted,” Kopper said. “As UW-Whitewater readies itself for a year-long celebration of our 150th anniversary, we are delighted with the possibility of welcoming the UW-Rock County community to the Warhawk family.”

She said a website will be created so that people can stay up to date on the proposed changes during the transition.

In announcing his proposal, Cross pointed out that change often produces uncertainty, but UW cannot be afraid to pursue needed reforms.

“We must restructure these two organizations, given the state’s demographic challenges, budgetary constraints, and the need for closer alignment between research and practice,” said Cross. “We want to leverage the strength of our four-year institutions at a time when overall enrollments at UW Colleges are declining.”

He said the goal is to expand access and provide more educational opportunities for more students, while ensuring UW faculty are organized and supported appropriately. Cross added that UW is committed to making the transition as smooth as possible for students, faculty and staff.

“The dramatic demographic declines in this state are undeniable and we have been working hard to ensure the future viability and sustainability of our small campuses,” said Cathy Sandeen, chancellor for UW Colleges and Extension. “I am optimistic about the potential of this new structure to keep student access and student success at the forefront.”

She continued: “Our team has been enacting major change and transformation efforts for the past three years, so we’re well positioned to help lead a smooth transition upon board approval. Our goal is to ensure the successful future for these campuses, because we need more doors open wider to more people in this state than ever before.”

UW officials cited the following restructuring objectives:

• Maintaining and expanding access to higher education by offering more general education and upper-level courses at the integrated branch campuses.

• Identifying and reducing barriers to transferring credits within the UW System.

• Maintaining affordability by continuing current tuition levels at the branch campuses post-merger for general education courses.

• Further standardizing and regionalizing administrative operations and services to more efficiently use resources.

• Leveraging resources and shared talent at UW institutions to get more students into and through the educational pipeline, better aligning the university to meet Wisconsin’s projected workforce needs.

Cross said that the proposed restructuring will allow the UW System to better address current and projected enrollment and financial challenges at the two-year institutions, while maintaining the important UW presence in local communities.

Business and community leaders stressed the important economic and cultural role UW institutions play in their regions when providing feedback for the UW System’s 2020FWD strategic framework.

Demographic trends indicate that current enrollment challenges are not likely to significantly improve in coming years, Cross said.

“By 2040, nearly 95 percent of total population growth in Wisconsin will be age 65 and older, while those of working age 18-64 will increase a mere 0.4 percent. Our labor force growth will be flat, while the demand for an educated labor force is growing exponentially,” said Cross.

“We must plan for the future now and be increasingly bold in our efforts to get more students through the educational pipeline to help meet Wisconsin’s needs,” he said. “We must do this by improving access to higher education and keeping it affordable for students and families.”

The university president said that this proposal will help avoid closing any UW Colleges’ campus while maintaining a university presence in these Wisconsin communities.

UW Colleges Online will move to UW System Administration under the Continuing Education, Outreach and E-learning (CEOEL) umbrella.

Meanwhile, Cross also announced a proposal to assign divisions within UW-Extension to UW-Madison and UW System Administration. This will go before the Regents next month.

Under the proposed plan, UW-Extension Cooperative Extension (including Wisconsin 4-H) and the UW-Extension Conference Centers would be moved to UW-Madison.

Cross said that the integration of Cooperative Extension and Conference Centers with the state’s land-grant institution is consistent with the practice in other states, including Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania. It also will provide more opportunities to connect the important practical work of extension agents with the research enterprise at UW-Madison.

Other divisions of UW-Extension would be integrated within UW System Administration to continue their statewide role. They include: The Division of Business and Entrepreneurship; Broadcasting and Media Innovations, including Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio; Continuing Education, Outreach and E-learning, including UW Flexible Option.