Other Views: Restructuring UW Colleges makes sense for students

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By Bryan Steil
Friday, November 17, 2017

The Board of Regents recently approved a proposal to restructure UW Colleges and UW-Extension. The UW System will now move forward with planning and implementation.

A steering committee will oversee the project, and two-year campuses, four-year comprehensive and research institutions, students, faculty, staff, community leaders and other stakeholders will be integral in providing input throughout this process.

I voted for the proposal because this approach will help strengthen each two-year UW institution, and it is the fiscally responsible path to take.

The UW System will maintain affordable tuition levels for classes currently offered at the two-year campuses. The ultimate goal is to bring more classes onsite, including upper level classes in the future.

Students will get more course options with all the benefits of a four-year institution. Locally, this means students at the UW-Rock County campus will have the benefit of being able to take courses from UW-Whitewater onsite.

Credits will transfer just as they do now. While the UW System has taken steps over the years to make this process easier for students, a key objective of the proposal is continuing to streamline the transfer process among all UW institutions.

The restructuring also makes sense financially. Standardizing and regionalizing operations and services allows UW Colleges, UW-Extension and other UW institutions to more effectively and efficiently use resources, which is important to all Wisconsin taxpayers.

Fewer babies are being born in Wisconsin, which means there are fewer students entering the education system. Our workforce is aging and retiring, and the combination of these demographics are being felt at our two-year institutions.

The overall enrollment at UW-Rock County has declined by 28 percent during the past seven years. We must maintain our high quality education standards, which becomes challenging without restructuring.

Our two-year campuses are critical access points for higher education in our state. This proposal keeps all UW Colleges campuses open and maintains a UW presence in the area.

We encourage students and families to consider the value these campuses provide when selecting the UW System for higher education. Our two- and four-year institutions continue to offer a world-class education that is second to none.

There is a perfect storm brewing in Wisconsin: a declining birthrate, an aging labor force, and a demand by businesses for more workers to be college-educated. The UW System is proactively taking steps now to prepare for the future.

There is a great deal of work to be done in the year ahead, and the Regent vote put into motion a plan that is good for UW students, families and Wisconsin as a whole.

Bryan Steil, from Janesville, is a member of the UW System Board of Regents. He is a UW-Madison alum and is corporate counsel at Regal Beloit Corporation.

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