UW System 'Restructuring' Plan Calls For Merging Two-, Four-Year Campuses

Oct 11, 2017

Leaders in the University of Wisconsin system have new ideas about how to increase enrollment at state schools. UW System president Ray Cross is expected to publicly reveal a “restructuring” plan on Thursday. 

But a few details have come to light ahead of time -- including a proposal to merge each of the system’s two-year schools with their nearest four-year campus.

What's the proposal?

The plan is to integrate the 13 UW Colleges -- the system’s two-year schools, focused on associate degree programs – into their nearest four-year institution (of which there are also 13). According to reports, the plan would not call for closing any of those campuses.

In the greater Milwaukee area, that means UW-Waukesha and UW-Washington County would be integrated into UW-Milwaukee, effective July 2018.

The idea is just a proposal at this point -- it would need approval from the UW Board of Regents before taking effect.

Because details haven’t been shared fully, it’s not clear where some costs would be cut. A big question yet to be answered: if the move might mean combining programs or administrative staff.

Goals of restructuring

In a letter to the UW-Milwaukee campus community, UW President Cross said the goal of this “restructuring” is to increase college access and raise graduation rates.

The UW System has been hit pretty hard in the last few years by declining enrollments, and Cross says demographic trends don’t indicate that changing anytime soon – unless the system takes action. It appears these mergers are that attempt to reverse the trend, as well as earn the system back millions of dollars it has missed out on in revenue from tuition and other fees.

Cross also addressed the rising cost burden on students. Some cite the price tag as a reason why they choose not to attend a four-year school like those in the UW System.

Cross says that by integrating campuses, the system will be able to share talent and resources across schools – which he says will help “streamline” the path from a two-year degree to a four-year degree. That way, he says, students can save money by spending their first two years at a UW College – which charges about half the tuition of a four-year campus -- and then, if they want to, transfer to a four-year campus to finish their degree.

Campuses await details

There wasn’t a groundswell of reaction from staff or students on Wednesday, as news of the plan first trickled out.

But UW System leaders are encouraging folks to share their thoughts. They say they’re aware change can create uncertainty – and as the plan continues to develop, they want input from the campus communities. Individuals can already submit feedback on the UW System website.