There are times when I am in the middle of an intense ride on my bike and I’ll blow a tire. As much as I want to keep pushing forward to get to my destination (and off the bike!), I need to get out of the saddle, assess the situation, put in a new tube or patch an existing one, and then get back on the bike to see if everything is ready to go. The process of restructuring requires similar thinking.
You may have seen the recent headlines about the UW System’s consolidation of its 13 two-year campuses with Wisconsin’s seven four-year universities. This is in response to demographic realities and declining enrollments across the state – UW Colleges’ enrollment have declined 32% in the past 7 years and some campuses’ saw drops up to 50%. This is not sustainable.
We must meet the needs of students and safeguard access to higher education. Bolstering the long-term viability of the community-based campuses and expanding opportunities for students is a step forward.
The proposed consolidation was announced last October, approved by the UW System Board of Regents in November and becomes effective July 1, 2018. At that point, UW-Waukesha and UW-Washington County become branch campuses of UW-Milwaukee, adding more than 2,000 students to our ranks. These are no small changes and they are advancing rapidly. At UW-Milwaukee, we have 160 people working in multiple functional teams and a restructuring steering committee with our counterparts. We all want this to be a seamless transition for students.
There are challenges as we speed down the road. Higher Learning Commission accreditation allowing us to grant two-year degrees is yet to be determined. Centralizing financial aid will take some time. We face technology issues, varying faculty and instructional staff policies, branding and recruitment intricacies– these are all puzzles that are taking some time to piece together cohesively.
As we speed ahead on many fronts to July 1, we also are pausing, assessing and determining what mix will work best for our current and future students and what our overall impact on the regional and state economies will be. There are many details to be worked out in the year beyond July 1, which will be handled in phases during a transition year.
For the long term, we see the joining of UW-Waukesha and UW-Washington County as a positive change to make education more accessible to those in our region. These campuses are a valuable launch pad to UW-Milwaukee and other UWS comprehensive institutions. The consolidation makes the transition more seamless and simpler for our joining students.
There is an opportunity here to increase the number of individuals in our state who hold four-year degrees. And, our economy needs them. Projections in a Georgetown studyshow that nearly 62% of jobs by 2020 will require some post-secondary education. With the demographic realities of fewer school-aged individuals in our state, there are even fewer students entering the education pipeline. This is happening at the same time we are facing an increase in demand for college-educated workers.
As one of America’s top 115 research universities, our goal is to graduate more students who will contribute to the regional economy, innovate, think critically and conduct research that solves societal issues. And who knows? Maybe one of those graduates will invent a bike tire that won’t blow during a difficult ride.
Mark A. Mone
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee