Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Chancellors at several four-year UW System campuses say they’re excited about the possibilities of merging with the two-year colleges.

UW System President Ray Cross announced the proposal, which would fold in the 13 two-year UW Colleges into seven nearby four-year institutions. Those two-year campuses, Cross says, face an uncertain future as the state’s population gets older and enrollment continues to decline.

The Board of Regents will vote on the proposal next month.

“I’m excited about it,” Cross told yesterday. “I think it’s going to position the university for the next 15, 20 years solidly.”

Since 2010, enrollments at the UW Colleges have declined from roughly 10,400 students to about 7,110, a roughly 32 percent drop, according to a UW System release. And the long-term picture won’t look any better as more state residents get older and Wisconsin sees slow growth in younger residents, UW says.

Cathy Sandeen, the chancellor of the UW Colleges and UW-Extension, said though officials weren’t considering closing any UW campuses, that could’ve been an option down the line as those trends continued. She also said the move wouldn’t just “keep the doors open” in those areas — but also help residents by having four-year campuses potentially expand their degree offerings there.

“That would be a huge advantage for students who aren’t able to travel to continue their education,” she said.

Cross also said that it would become much easier for students at two-year campuses to transfer to a four-year degree program, acknowledging that past efforts and online resources from UW aimed at boosting transfers haven’t led to dramatic increases.

“We have these technical ways, web pages and everything else … but it’s not done at the level it should be done,” he said.

Three Republican lawmakers who follow the UW System closely welcomed the change.

Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, who chairs the Assembly higher ed committee, said the new model would be more efficient.

“I don’t really see any downside to it, and I see a lot of positives to it,” he said.

Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, who chairs the Senate higher ed committee, also applauded Cross’ plan.

“Even as we see a decline in enrollments at some of the two-year campuses, I applaud the effort by President Cross to bring forth a plan that maintains student access and creates opportunities for efficiencies,” she said.

Sen. Steve Nass, a Whitewater Republican and frequent UW critic, is happy that the UW System realizes its current footprint is “just simply too large,” spokesman Mike Mikalsen said.

Mikalsen said UW’s proposal was a “good first step” toward having a broader conversations about whether all of those two-year campuses — as well as their staff and buildings — should exist, given the state projecting flat enrollments and a rise of students interested in online offerings.

“I think this is going to be pretty big long term,” he said.

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