Downtown Janesville needs more people.

UW-Rock County, Blackhawk Technical College and the Janesville School District need a place for international students to live.

The benefits of building a dormitory downtown are so obvious, it’s a wonder somebody didn’t think of the idea sooner: Restaurants and shops would gain foot traffic, the city’s image would become more cosmopolitan, and all three local educational institutions would increase their enrollments.

Indeed, we strain to think of any downsides, aside from the inevitable cries about a parking shortage (see last Sunday’s editorial for our rebuttal).

The biggest barrier to building a downtown dorm is getting these institutions—some with competing interests—to work together to achieve a singular goal. Enrollment at UW-Rock County, Blackhawk Technical College and the Janesville School District has been stagnant or falling in recent years, and they’re all hungry for new revenue. They view other nations, China namely, as having an abundant supply of prospective students. A growing middle class in China means more families can afford U.S. schools, and Chinese parents are eager to find U.S. partners.

So eager, in fact, the Chinese government has set up an office to recruit students to attend the Janesville School District and other districts around the state.

Blackhawk Technical College President Tracy Pierner joined Janesville School District officials on a trip to China this year, and he saw opportunities for the technical college. Meanwhile, UW-Rock County is considering a setup similar to UW-Richland’s dormitory, where many international students live.

UW-Rock County’s Student Housing Committee has been studying dormitory options over the past year, and committee members include UW-Rock County staff, county officials and the head of the Janesville School District International Education Program, Kevin Miller.

Notably missing from this committee are any Blackhawk Technical College representatives, which is unfortunate. Pierner said the technical college hasn’t been asked to participate.

UW-Rock County is in the midst of a transition, planning to merge soon with UW-Whitewater. The college likely will hold off on making a decision on its housing needs until that merger is complete. But that doesn’t mean it can’t reach out to Blackhawk Technical College and pursue a mutually beneficial housing arrangement.

Pierner has shown he’s open to working with UW-Rock County on a dormitory project, and UW-Rock County should return the favor by inviting Blackhawk Technical College into dormitory discussions. Of course, the Janesville School District must also keep its seat at the table.

None of these institutions could likely swing a downtown dorm project on its own. But in working collectively, they could get it done. We’re serious about this idea, and we hope they are, too.

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