One of Governor Ever’s line-item vetoes in the new state budget eroded six months of hard work by a Washington County Task Force to come up with a pragmatic solution to the troubles facing its two-year colleges.
Both UW Milwaukee at Washington County and Moraine Park Technical College in West Bend have empty classrooms. Enrollment at UWM-WC is down about 70% over the last decade. MPTC has reported a 20% decline. The enrollment numbers for the 2023-24 school year are not yet known, but no one is expecting a change in the long-term trends.
I was a co-chair of the task force and asked the question at our last of five months of meetings: “Does anyone see a better plan than consolidation for the future of higher education in Washington County?” Not one of the smart and experienced members raised a hand.
That’s because the two-year colleges are dealing with: 1. A persistent fall-off in high school graduates, 2. Incoming students with a good chunk of their freshman year already behind them through accumulated credits, 3. Many young people who skip college to go directly into a hot job market. How do college recruiters overcome those powerful trends?
There is no good answer, except to consolidate the resources of the two institutions. More intensive recruiting might help, but the two-year colleges are still swimming upstream.
Washington County was to be a pilot for consolidation. If it worked, it could be used in the other communities with threatened two-year UW colleges. Why not try it?
Gov. Evers must have been influenced by incumbent educators at UWM and the Wisconsin Technical College System to come up with his lame veto. Incumbents don’t like change. He needs to do his homework on this issue because the challenge to the freshman/sophomore campuses isn’t going away. His veto didn’t deal with that reality.
He may have wanted to settle a score with the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee, which trashed his initial budget. I hope that wasn’t the motivation of our “education governor.”
In issuing his veto, he said that he didn’t want a one-county pilot program.
OK, Governor, then make a bold leap to a state-wide solution. Almost all of the remaining two-year UW colleges are in some level of distress. Where the tech campuses and UW satellite campuses overlap across the state, consolidate them into community colleges that encompass a technical occupation track and a for-credit professional track.
There are already seven successful examples of such colleges among the 16 technical college districts across the state. There is plenty of precedent.
You were elected to be a leader, not an obstacle to necessary change. If you want to do the right thing for students in this state, get up to speed on this complex market challenge for higher education. The 11 members of the non-partisan Washington County Task Force are at your disposal.
The task force, which was purposefully designed to look at the local marketplace for higher education, confronted the diminishing demand. You also should consult the “work group” made up of UWM insiders. It is holding meetings to come up with alternative solutions to save UWM at Washington county and Waukesha. They are due to report September 1.
But please come to our county with an open mind and leave your Madison gamesmanship behind.