Mone Work Group comes up short

If you were looking for solutions to the challenges facing the 12 two-year UW colleges across the state, the “Work Group” created by UWM Chancellor Mark Mone to save the UW campus in Washington County is not the place to look.

The eight-person group of UWM employees reported their findings a week ago, and its report was more of a downer than an upper. It did reveal that UWM at its Waukesha and West Bend campuses are down in student enrollments another 14% from last year. And the class sizes now average 10 per class. That is a sharpening downward trend from an almost 70% previous drop in enrollment.

The group headed by Jason Puskar, an UWM English professor, seemed to have as its main purpose the discrediting of a task force created by Washington County Executive Josh Schoemann. His task force of 11 community leaders, people experienced in organizational restructuring, settled on the concept of a community college for Washington County. That’s an institution with two tracks for its students, primarily high school graduates. The college entrants can take a technical learning path toward a wide variety of occupations or a baccalaureate path for credits toward professional careers.

They already operate side-by-side very nicely in six such community colleges across the state and in many other states.

The Mone Work Group avoided that community college concept. It just rejected “merger,” a one-word description of a strategic proposal to consolidate — in a pilot — UWM at Washington County with the West Bend campus of Moraine Park Technical College.

Each had about 270 full-time equivalent students last year. The technical college numbers for this year have not been released. They had been running about 20% lower than previous highs.

Unlike the county task force, the UWM educrats have had little experience with reorganization of institutions. Nonetheless, they did conclude, “UWM at Washington County cannot continue as it is.”

While the Shoemann task force worked at a very strategic level, the Mone group delved into all kinds of nitty gritty matters. It was always the intention of the county strategic planners to move — after a broad approval of a community college — into an integration exercise on issues below the strategic level. What to do with the buildings on the two campuses is an example of such a tactical issue.

If Mone’s group failed at the strategic level, what did it come up with? They recommended:

  • Fuller integration with UWM. The two satellite campuses have been parked in something called a “College of General Studies.” That essentially meant the professors at Waukesha and West Bend, who hold PhDs, were not asked to teach at the downtown UWM campus and vice versa. (UW-Green Bay took exactly the opposite approach with its three satellites.)
  • Elimination of the College of General Studies. “Rather than functioning as stand-alone institutions, the branch campuses should serve as locations where UWM faculty teach.”
  • With only 17% of all students at the West Bend campus completing an associate degree, preferring to transfer to a four-year institution to work toward a bachelor’s degree, the UWM insiders essentially want to de-emphasize associate degrees.
  • The group agreed with the county task force that the quality of the student experience had declined. It concluded, “We see no realistic way to restore many of the services the campus once provided because of the loss of revenue from tuition and segregated fees.” That includes food service and athletics.
  • The group found “widespread interest in the possibility of more collaboration with MPTC.” (That collaboration has been virtually non-existent in the past.)
  • The group raised many ground level issues that would have to be worked out if a merger were decided upon and to make the case against the “merger” strawman. That, of course, is obvious in any combination of organizations. Again, the community college concept was left untouched.
  • The lesser issues raised include alignment of curriculum across campuses, a return to community engagement, rationalization of faculty pay and workloads, professor tenure, coordinated marketing, admission standards, excess numbers of faculty at current enrollment levels, possible different tuition levels.

Will the Work Group’s ramblings change the trajectory of falling enrollments? To the extent that its work is inside baseball, with little impact on students directly, probably not. The demographics at the student level will remain the major driver of the statistics.

There will be major solutions at the strategic level at some point not too far down the road. The status quo that the Work Group seems stuck with won’t be sustainable.

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