A merger of UW two-year colleges with nearby four-year universities — including joining UW-Barron County and UW-Eau Claire — was approved by the UW System Board of Regents Thursday, setting the stage for meetings to determine what those partnerships will mean for affected schools when it takes effect July 1.
Officials from UW-Eau Claire and UW-Barron County will begin meeting next week to figure out how the agreement can best benefit both institutions, UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt said.
That process will start Wednesday when Schmidt, accompanied by staff members as well as representatives from the University Senate, University Staff Council and Student Senate, visit the UW-Barron County campus in Rice Lake to meet with their counterparts there.
“There are many unanswered questions about how this new partnership will work, and we’ll be working collaboratively to answer those questions and find a path forward together,” Schmidt said. “Listening and working together through this is very important, and we’re ensuring that all are represented in the conversation.”
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.
UW-Barron County Administrator Jeff French said he is pleased to partner with UW-Eau Claire. “We will be stronger together, and it is vital that we continue to provide people in our region with access to a University of Wisconsin education,” he said.
Leaders of UW-Eau Claire’s University Senate and Student Senate said continued conversations and open communication between their university and UW-Barron County will be important as partnership discussions proceed.
Despite the partnership between those schools, UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer said he hopes to maintain the strong tie between the university he oversees and UW-Barron County. More than one-fourth of UW-Barron County students transferring to UW System four-year colleges in 2015-16 chose UW-Stout, he said.
The Board of Regents approved the proposal on a voice vote Thursday. Regents Tony Evers, the state schools superintendent who is running as a Democrat for governor, and Janice Mueller voted against the plan.
The proposal was announced last month by UW System President Ray Cross. The move was prompted by declining enrollment at UW system two-year schools.
According to UW System statistics, the state’s 13 two-year campuses have experienced a 32 percent enrollment decrease since 2010, based on preliminary figures from this fall. That results in millions of dollars in lost tuition revenue.