By Hub City Times staff
MARSHFIELD — A plan to merge the University of Wisconsin System’s two- and four-year schools is proving challenging to execute and likely won’t be complete until at least the end of 2019. That’s what chancellors and the two-year schools’ leader told UW regents April 5.
The Board of Regents in November approved UW System President Ray Cross’ proposal to make the 13 two-year schools branch campuses of seven nearby four-year schools as of July first. The four-year schools will officially take control of the two-year campuses on that date, pending approval of the Higher Learning Commission, which must give the four-year schools permission to award associate degrees.
The commission is expected to issue a decision in June. Approval would mean associate degrees could carry the four-year schools’ names as early as December.
But how the rest of the merger will look remains vague.
The seven four-year chancellors told the regents that they’ve created multiple transition teams and have been meeting with leaders in their communities about the merger. But, the chancellors added they’re still wrestling with daunting logistics, such as whether to rename the branch campuses, how to retain the smaller campuses’ identities, how to maintain student access and navigating layers of bureaucracy.
UW Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone said the work is like “trying to fix a bicycle while riding it.”
UW Colleges Chancellor Cathy Sandeen, leader of the two-year schools, said the nuts-and-bolts transition will last until at least Dec. 31 of next year, largely because of a U.S. Department of Education decision that the two-year schools must award financial aid in their current format for the 2018-19 academic year. Most of the hard changes will take place in the 2019-20 academic year.
UW System President Ray Cross proposed the merger plan as a way to keep the two-year schools open in the face of declining enrollment. He said the merger would make transferring from two-year campuses to the four-year schools smoother and attract more students because they’ll be able to earn associate degrees as well as take third- or fourth-year courses.
Under the plan, UW Stevens Point will run UW Marshfield-Wood County and Marathon County campuses, Whitewater will take over UW-Rock County, Eau Claire will run UW-Barron County, Milwaukee will control U-W’s Washington County and Waukesha, Green Bay would take over U-W’s Manitowoc, Marinette and Sheboygan, Oshkosh would run U-W’s Fond du Lac and Fox Valley, and Platteville will take over U-W’s Baraboo/Sauk County and Richland.
UW System administration will absorb UW-Extension’s community outreach efforts and take over UW-Extension’s other divisions, including public broadcasting.