4th UW college folds, despite obvious solution

And then there were nine.

Of the original 13 UW two-year colleges that have been around for a half century or
more, nine are still operating despite sharp enrollment declines.

But four have bitten the dust, or are about to. Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman sounded the death knell for the UW centers: Richland, Fond du Lac and West Bend over the last year. He gave little rationale for the closures other than declining enrollments. He turned a deaf ear to innovative concepts for their campuses.

Last week, Chancellor Mike Alexander of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay went
public with his decision to end in-person classes at UW-Green Bay at Marinette.
Alexander has used new approaches to keep his other two campuses in Manitowoc and
Sturgeon Bay open. They both have roughly 400 hundred students, but Marinette has slipped to roughly 200.

Alexander led the way with a 2+2+2 concept. Juniors and seniors in high school effectively became UW-GB students, earning a high school diploma and college credits toward a baccalaureate while still in high school. Combined with advanced placement credit and on-line courses, they could attain sophomore status, even an associate degree, before graduating from high school.

Unlike UW-Milwaukee that orphaned its Waukesha and West Bend campuses,
Alexander fought to keep his three satellite campuses alive as an integral part of his four-year university. He is still working to keep the Marinette campus a viable center for educational offerings and community involvement. Streaming courses will be offered there as well as educational guidance. UWGB will increase its investment in Marinette’s Herb Williams Theater, including art exhibits, lectures, and performances. Classes through his Lifelong Learning Institute will continue.

“We are not leaving, said Alexander, “Yes, it will look different. It will not close. We want our campus in Marinette to be an educational asset for generations to come.” The future of the West Bend campus, including its theater, is uncertain. With what we know, the campus is destined to close completely at the end of the current semester.

There was an obvious statewide solution to the enrollment challenge at all of the state’s two-year colleges, including its 16 technical colleges. A Washington County task force, (which I co-chaired) proposed a consolidation of the two-year liberal arts and technical colleges.

“Merge them. Just merge them,” said Tommy Thomson to me after stepping down as interim UW president.

That was the almost unanimous conclusion of the Washington County Task Force and
the Washington County Board. A pilot for consolidation in Washington County passed both houses of the legislature for inclusion in the state budget. It was vetoed by for some unknown reason by Gov. Evers.

It is not too late for a statewide solution as opposed to the sequential closures of the two-year UW campuses. Forget the turf wars. The Wisconsin Technical College System fought the consolidation even though it has lobbied for a long time and had won a right to offer what are called “general studies” as a liberal arts sidecar to its technical training.

The technical college system has long pushed for a baccalaureate credit track alongside
its technical occupational track.

So, let’s just do the consolidation at the state level and be done with the “painful
transition” (Alexander’s words) of singular closures.

Five of the 16 technical colleges already brand themselves as dual mission “community colleges.” They are humming with success in places like Madison, Waukesha, Rhinelander and La Crosse.

Why not a similar lash-up in Marinette, Fond du Lac, West Bend and every other region
of the state where the two-year college systems overlap? The two-year campuses in Marinette are only two miles apart. In Fond du Lac, they are even closer. In West Bend, the two competing campuses are four miles apart.

Could the GOP-controlled legislature and Democratic Gov. Evers please get together on
this obvious need for consolidation?

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