Early this semester, UW System President Ray Cross announced that every two-year college in Wisconsin will join with a neighboring four-year university. In the case of UW-Rock County, this means we will join with UW-Whitewater. But what does this mean? That’s what faculty and administration at both colleges are working hard to figure out.

First and most important, UW-Rock County isn’t going anywhere. Our enrollment is strong, our faculty are dedicated and our administrative staff are battle-tested from years and years of budget cuts. We have a nationally recognized writing program, teachers utilizing cutting-edge POGIL teaching methods and award-winning researchers such as Tom Klubertanz—our nationally recognized mayfly expert.

A lot has been made about “declining enrollments” across the state, starting around the year 2010. But what you probably haven’t heard is that enrollment at the UW Colleges is counter-cyclical. That means when the economy cools down, more people return to UW-Rock County (and other two-year colleges in the state) to learn additional skills. When the economy heats up, we see lower enrollment because there are more available jobs. At UW-Rock County, we still serve nearly 1,000 students despite the strong economy.

And make no mistake, our primary goal during this restructuring is to serve our students. For UW-Rock County, that means ensuring that students already enrolled will continue their education under the curriculum outlined in the UW Colleges associate degree. Students can pursue their degree at UW-Rock County and their credits will continue to transfer to any UW institution just as they did before. President Cross has emphasized this point. Enrollment for the spring 2017 semester is in full-swing, and we’re committed to making sure that every single student will earn their credits without any interruption.

But just because we’re motivated to limit the impact on our students doesn’t mean there won’t be any changes. In fact, we’ve already identified numerous places where this new relationship with UW-Whitewater will strengthen the UW-Rock County campus and vice versa.

For example, UW-Whitewater is known across the state for its amazing commitment to veterans and for its resources available to disabled students. These resources, in the future, can benefit the UW-Rock County campus and provide more support for future students. UW-Rock County has tons of experience with developmental reading and writing programs, which we can share with UW-Whitewater. Departments from both campuses can collaborate research and community projects. Student government on both campuses can work together.

We’re still in the early transition process, but the more we learn about each other, the more shared opportunities we’re seeing for growth. Right now, we’ve formed working groups to identify how this restructuring will look. We’re taking guidance from the UW System and developing a plan that will best serve our student population.

UW-Whitewater has invited UW-Rock County to participate in these working groups, ensuring that the process embodies the shared governance that has made the UW System so great. UW-Whitewater’s team has been incredibly supportive since the announcement.

Faculty, administrators and staff are putting in hundreds of uncompensated hours of overtime to make sure this merger succeeds beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Because we care about our students. And you’d better believe UW-Rock County and UW-Whitewater care our community.

Ken Brosky is an assistant professor of English at UW-Rock County and serves as faculty senator for the campus.

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