Proposal to merge UW System colleges across the state

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- There could be fewer UW schools across the state as two-year colleges could become a part of four-year institutions.

Wednesday morning, UW System President Ray Cross announced his proposal to merge the colleges.

“We will now have a physical footprint in Rice Lake which serves the broader northwest region,” said UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt.

UW-Eau Claire could be expanding its campus to Rice Lake. A from the UW System supports merging the 13 two-year UW Colleges, along with UW-Extension, with four- year institutions to prevent them from closing their doors.

“Many of these two-year campuses have lost up to 50 percent of enrollment in last 7 years,” Schmidt said.

As part of the proposal, UW-Barron County, one of the university’s top transfer campuses that has 5-600 students, would merge with UW-Eau Claire.

“They will be a campus of UW-Eau Claire, that's what the system has laid out,” Schmidt said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “It will be a consistent message across the state. It'll no longer be UW-Barron County, it will be perhaps Barron County, campus of UW-Eau Claire; and we welcome them to UW-Eau Claire family.

Although not all the details have been finalized, Schmidt wanted to make clear it's not going to be a closure of any kind for any two-year UW Schools, however it will look different among each UW merge. He also adds this is not going to limit any opportunities for students north of Eau Claire. Schmidt said there is no intention of taking the students from UW-Barron County and bringing them to Eau Claire.
They're looking to continue providing classes and possibly expand programming in the future.

“All students who are there now will have the opportunity to complete their AA degree with degree requirements as they are now. The goal is to hold harmless any student who is around during merger process.”

But Schmidt adds there are not enough details yet to know if staff will be expanding as well.

“Enrollment is a key indicator as it relates to staff sizes. I don't view this as an opportunity to reduce staff, but in an effort to try and expand who we can serve. If we're serving more students we need more faculty and staff. It’s way too early to see if nay reductions will be necessary. I have not seen their budgets; I don't have good handle on staffing; it'll all be a part of the conversation."

Schmidt said he plans on traveling to UW-Barron County in the next couple of weeks to start the conversation about the potential merger and adds it's not the intention to lay off positions.

He said he believes this is a good move by Cross and for the UW System; a bold move that is preventive rather than reactive.

The proposal still has to be approved by the UW Board of Regents this November. If approved, it would go into effect on July 1st.

Neighboring university, UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer said in a statement Wednesday:

"Earlier this morning you received an email from UW System President Cross that lays out his proposal to restructure the UW Colleges and Extension system, basically incorporating each two-year college across the state into the nearest four-year institution and dividing the Extension responsibilities between UW-Madison and UW System administration.

UW System officials said they allocated the two-year campuses to the nearest four-year institutions. Under this plan, UW-Barron County in Rice Lake will be attached to UW-Eau Claire. Therefore, there will be no immediate impact on our campus. With a major operational change like this in the UW System, however, there probably will be impacts that we cannot foresee right now.

I know that many of you will have questions about this proposal, which requires Board of Regents approval. I, too, have questions. I will do my best to keep the campus informed about this proposal as it makes its way through the Board of Regents and implementation steps occur.

For now, I want to assure everyone that I fully support President Cross and the Regents as they strive to maintain the quality of education provided by our 13 two-year campuses. These two-year campuses are a vital access point for students who dream of acquiring a college education, which we all know is becoming increasingly important in the workplace. We cannot afford as a state to allow this access to diminish.

I also will do everything possible to maintain our historical link to UW-Barron County and remain a top choice for students who start their education there and continue to a four-year degree. In 2015-16, for example, more than a quarter of the UW-Barron County students who transferred to UW System institutions chose UW-Stout, and we must preserve that transfer pipeline."

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