Moraine College concept dies

Let’s deal with reality. The concept of a “Moraine Community College” that was endorsed 19-2 by the Washington County Board of Supervisors is dead. So is the possibility of saving the campus of the University of Wisconsin at Washington County.

The leaders of higher education who serve Washington County appeared before the county board Wednesday night and offered no support for either option. The words “community college” never came up in the hour and a half of their presentations. Nor was there attention paid to a liberal arts track to a baccalaureate degree in our county.

Mark Mone, UWM Chancellor, photo credit: uwm.edu

Mark Mone, UWM chancellor, and Bonnie Baerwald, president of Moraine Park Technical College (MPTC), expressed good intentions about the future of higher education in the county, but there wasn’t much meat on the bone in terms of what they are going to do going forward. All parties, including the supervisors, were encouraged by the dialogue between UWM and MPTC, but no actual new initiatives have started.

Both institutions expressed an intention of making a seamless transition for MPTC’s two-year students to UWM’s four-year programs. They said they will collaborate. Note, though, there was almost no collaboration heretofore between the UWM satellite campus here and MPTC. Indeed, they had become competitors.

Bless both parties if they succeed in establishing a new relationship.

It makes total sense for UWM to consider MPTC as a feeder school. UWM has had a massive enrollment drop in the last ten years; they need students wherever they can get them.

Josh Schoemann, Washington County executive, has set a goal of preserving higher education in Washington County, including a four-year baccalaureate track in some manner. He created a task force in fall of 2022 (I co-chaired it.) to come up with a workable education/business model that would work for the young people starting their careers and adults who want to upskill their capabilities.

The new leading model for higher education across the state is 2 + 2 + 2. That concept recognizes that juniors and seniors in high school are already college students. They build up college credits through advanced placement courses, dual credit classes that count both toward high school diplomas and baccalaureate degrees, and online courses. They can graduate from high school as college sophomores with their first year under their belts, even as juniors with an associate degree under their belts.

The second “2” accomplishes the first half of a four-year program at a low tuition cost of about $4,000 to $5,000 per year at two-year colleges – less than half at a four-year university.

The last “2” is the junior and senior years for degree completion at a four-year university.

Moraine Park has been aggressive on the dual credit classes with surrounding K-12 districts. That’s a positive, but Baerwald vetoed consolidation of MPTC with the liberal arts two-year UW colleges. Now they will be defunct at the end of June. She had a golden opportunity to put the two together on her campus picking up more than 300 students.

Baerwald had succeeded on winning a $55 million bond issue through a referendum in her district. It will center on advanced manufacturing technology. The first building is scheduled to go up in 2024.

She had the chutzpa Wednesday to ask for another $5 million from local sources to implement the manufacturing initiative over two years. Some of the dollars will go to the purchase of modern equipment. She is seeking $2 million in donations as part of that total.

One supervisor noted that his property tax bill had gone up to pay for the debt service on the bond issue.

It’s time for Baerwald to retire. Note that she torpedoed the community college concept without input from her board and without advance notice to the Schoemann task force.

Mone sealed the decision by UW President Jay Rothman to permanently close the Washington County campus by saying, “We don’t have the capacity to operate where we have significantly dwindling students. We just can’t do that across UW System.”

Note that UW – Green Bay has fully absorbed its three satellite campuses at Marinette, Manitowoc and Sheboygan, and UWGB’s overall enrollment has increased. Chancellor Michael Alexander has led the state in adopting dual credits in his “Rising Phoenix” program.

There have been lots of meetings and palaver about rolling out alternative types of higher education for Washington County, but none of the leaders specified near-term action in Wednesday night’s meeting.

There was a consensus that the credits from MPTC should be constructed so that they readily transfer to UWM or other four-year colleges with ease. Institutions have been working on that “articulation” for many years.

Waukesha County Technical College solved the need for a four-year program in its county by moving Lakeland University’s Milwaukee campus to its campus. It now offers technical occupation certificates alongside Lakeland’s baccalaureates on the same campus.

Pete Rettler, dean of the West Bend MPTC campus, suggested that someday four-year university degrees could be offered locally by UW universities’ professors. That “University Center Structure” was put in place in West Bend a decade ago. At one point, nine baccalaureates were offered locally, taught by UW universities’ professors. They were all shut down more than five years ago.

To meet Schoemann’s goal, why not ask Lakeland or another four-year institution to put a baccalaureate program on the West Bend Campus?

Meanwhile, students in Washington County have lost the opportunity for a UW degree while living at home. The savings for room and board are about $10,000 per year.

The community college concept developed in Washington County could and should be applied more broadly across the whole state while 12 two-year. Colleges still exist.

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