University of Wisconsin regents vote to merge campuses - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

University of Wisconsin regents vote to merge campuses

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MADISON (WKOW) - The University of Wisconsin System regents Thursday approved a plan to merge the system's two-year schools with its four-year campuses.

The plan calls for transforming the system's 13 two-year schools into regional branches of seven of the 13 four-year schools. Students could still earn associate degrees but they would bear the name of the four-year school. Students also would get a wider range of courses to choose from and be able to take third- and fourth-year courses at the branch campuses.

System President Ray Cross proposed the plan as a means of bolstering declining enrollment at the two-year schools and keep them open.

Cross' plan also calls for UW-Madison to take over UW Extension programs.

Cross says the merging could help students on associate degree tracks to now have opportunity to expand learning, and align with neighboring economic development.

"What curricula exists in the two year communities is only associate degrees in the liberal arts,"  Cross says.  "Can we bring more courses to them, not necessarily degrees, maybe it's a short course, maybe it's a certificate?,"  Cross says.  "These kinds of opportunities exist depending on demand."

UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone sees this synergy involving the coming, huge Foxconn manufacturing project.

"Not just at Foxconn, but especially at Foxconn,"  Mone says.  "So this concept of regional effort is absolutely critical."

But State Department of Public Instruction Tony Evers was one of two regents to vote against the merger plan, calling the proposal's process less than ideal.

Evers, who is also running for governor, says there's a lack of buy-in.

"There's people in the state of Wisconsin who feel they've been left behind in the process,"  Evers says.  "And whether that's reality or perception doesn't make a hell of a lot of difference."

Regents have until July to complete the administrative transition to restructure the two-year schools.  Cross says changes in the process of student financial aid and other functions will take longer, and be shaped by regents through regular meetings.

Cross says significantly declining enrollment at some two-year schools is so acute, institutions are within as few as twenty-four months from a level of financial insolvency unless steps are taken.  He says the merger will strengthen those schools, create efficiencies and save the UW System money, although he concedes there will be some job loss.

(More: Proposal would merge UW campuses, four-year colleges)

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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