President Baerwald, Please think collaboratively on community college.

Bonnie Baerwald, president of Moraine Park Technical College (MPTC), dropped a surprise bombshell on the developing consensus among leaders in Washington County that a consolidation of the county’s two two-year colleges makes pragmatic sense.

Baerwald (pictured left) listed “facts” about the enrollment challenges at UWM at Washington County and the Moraine Park West Bend campus in the Daily News, including one that stated: “Moraine Park is not merging with UWM — Washington County.” She gave no explanation as to why.

In flat-out rejecting the conclusions and due diligence of a task force appointed by Washington County Executive Josh Schoemann, she showed herself to be out of step with the near unanimity across the county. The county board of supervisors voted 19—2 in favor of the task force recommendation for a combined community college concept.

By not giving the task force a heads-up about her negative stance, Baerwald showed considerable disrespect for the people who gave their talent and time over five months of hearings and fact-finding to sort through the complexities of the rapidly changing worlds of work and education. (Note: I was a co-chairman of the task force.)

She made a point that the task force recommendation was “purely advisory,” seeming to imply that was a reason to discount its efforts. Schoemann set it up to be advisory with diverse voices from across the county.

The task force priority was to listen to the voice of the customer – students and parents, employers and the K-12 superintendents of the five feeder districts in the region.

Baerwald had two or three of her managers at each of the six hearings. Her managers were very helpful in unearthing what’s causing the sharp enrollment decline at UWM-WC and the consistent declines at MPTC and what to do about it. UWM also had an executive at every hearing. She was also helpful.

Baerwald didn’t attend, but was in the loop on the intense deliberations. Schoemann met with her along the way, and so did I. She did not attend the county board vote.

So, here are some questions for President Baerwald, who has done a competent job heretofore of adapting MPTC’s offerings to the changing work world:

  • Was the decision to reject the recommendation yours alone or did it have the backing of your district board, of the state board? It appears to have been a unilateral decision on your part.
  • It appears your strategy is to let UWM-WC twist in winds of demographic change, fail and then pick up the pieces. Is that the leaderly thing to do for the students and their parents when they could be neatly folded into a merged comprehensive community college?
  • MPTC has already been moving into an associate’s degree in general studies/liberal arts. Instead of building it from scratch, why not just absorb the accredited UWM-WC curriculum and its 370 UWM students? MPTC’s for-credit program aimed at baccalaureate professional careers would be off to a roaring start. In contrast, it recently had only eight students in this new initiative.
  • Have you thought about the savings to taxpayers that a consolidation would bring?
  • You just raised $55 million through a bond issue for expanded programming. Doesn’t that taxpayer trust come with an obligation to step up for the community and taxpayers to resolve an obvious education challenge four miles away?
  • Are you in touch with the six of the other 15 technical college districts in Wisconsin that have already moved to the model of comprehensive community colleges (with a technical/occupational career track alongside a for-credit, professional career track)? Note: Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) just invited Lakeland College to move its liberal arts program to the WCTC Waukesha campus, similar to what was advocated by the Schoemann task force.
  • Will you take the same negative stance in Fond du Lac, where your campus is adjacent to UW-Oshkosh at Fond du Lac, where enrollment is also off by about 70%?
  • Your people raised the issue of what to do with the UWM satellite campus. Are you aware that Washington County, which owns the campus, has agreed to retain its ownership and find innovative uses for that beautiful campus? That issue has been resolved so should be no impediment to merger.
  • Did your lieutenants relay to you that our students’ testimonies brought out that they loved their classes and PhD professors at UWM-WC? Did you know these experienced teachers are paid far less than your PhD professors? Some might jump at the chance to keep teaching their liberal arts students.
  • Are you aware that the superintendents of the five K-12 school districts in the region that serve as feeders to the two-year colleges applauded the task force recommendation for a combined comprehensive community college?

One of your other stated “facts” is that a change to the dual two-year college systems can only come through legislation. Are you prepared to support such legislation and to implement such a new law?

Finally, we on the task force ask you to think more broadly on the expanded role MPTC could play for higher education in Washington County. With your collaboration, a combined comprehensive community college could be accomplished locally without major legislation.

Please be part of the solution for local liberal arts education, not part of the problem. Your recent general studies startup is in direct competition with UWM-WC for enrolling new students.

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