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Anthony Wahl 

Janesville Craig Joey Coulter won by decision over Janesville Parker Deezle Richards to take first place in the 113-pound weight class during the Big Eight Conference wrestling tournament at Parker High School on Saturday, Feb. 8.

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UW-Whitewater program for students with intellectual disabilities a first in state


They act like college students because they are college students.

They scroll through their phones at a coffee shop, go to the gym to work out and grind through classes they would rather not take but are required for graduation.

But they are a new kind of college student.

In September, UW-Whitewater launched its Learning Is For Everyone or LIFE program. All of the eight students in the two-year program have some degree of intellectual disability.

Anthony Wahl 

Caitlin Salzeider spins her lanyard while relaxing and talking with Sera Lira on her bed following a trip to the gym Thursday. The two are in the two-year LIFE program for students with intellectual disability at UW-Whitewater.

The program was developed by UW-Whitewater Associate Professor of Special Education James Collins.

“One of the major motivations for us in pushing this out is to help give more opportunities and better serve a much-deserving but very under-served segment of the population,” Collins said.

UW-Whitewater isn’t the first university to have a college experience for people with cognitive disabilities, but it is the first in the UW System.

Wisconsin has five college-type programs for people with intellectual disabilities. They range from a three-year program at Shepherds College that serves only people with cognitive disabilities to a four-year program at Edgewood College.

Many of the students in UW-Whitewater’s program toured colleges around the country before deciding on UW-Whitewater. Think College, thinkcollege.net, lists 282 college/work readiness programs in the United States.

Anthony Wahl 

Lola Abu, left, visits with friend Sam Craden as he plays a game on his phone inside his dorm room in Tutt Hall at UW-Whitewater.

Lola Abu of Madison looked at a college in Chicago that didn’t have what she needed.

“The program didn’t have enough support for someone like me,” Abu said. “I looked in Madison, too, at Edgewood, but it was way too much money.”

She looked as far afield as South Carolina.

“I picked Whitewater because it was smaller and closer to home but still far enough away to be away from home,” Abu said.

She’s interested in working with preschool children.

Nathan Barnes of Kenosha took a sign language class at Gateway Technical College, but the school had only one course. Barnes knows some sign language but wants to learn more.

“I did check out Shepherds College, but it didn’t have what I wanted,” Barnes said. “I wanted to be with really nice people. I wanted a sign language club or class, but they didn’t have that.”

Barnes wants to be in some kind of helping profession.

Anthony Wahl 

LIFE program students Caitlin Salzeider, left, and Sera Lira spend time talking with Elly Fox, their independent living assistant, who lives on the same floor in Tutt Hall with the students in UW-Whitewater’s LIFE program.

The LIFE program is intended to give students a college experience—the chance to make friends and create memories. But it has other goals, too.

Students have classes in functional academics such as math, reading, writing and communication. They also might want to audit a college course in their interest area. They also attend classes to hone their social and emotional skills.

LIFE students stay in Tutt Hall with traditional students, and it’s there they learn and practice independent living skills, such as doing laundry and cooking meals.

Because finding employment is among the goals, LIFE students learn about applying for jobs, managing job interviews, workplace behavior and communication skills. Students engage in internships to see what kinds of jobs they want to do.

Other areas of instruction include social skills, leisure skills, safety, self-advocacy and disability awareness.

Tuition is $24,000 a year. Fees for meals, books and other items bring the total to $31,950.

The program recently was approved as a Comprehensive Transition Program, a federal designation that allows students and their families to apply for federal financial aid such as Pell grants, said Ashlea Roselle, program coordinator.

In addition, IRIS, a state program for adults with disabilities, can pay for some aspects of the LIFE program.

Much of LIFE’s training in social, employment and independent living skills is taught—or used to be taught—in high school.

Collins said he understands the challenges high schools face in providing specific training.

Anthony Wahl 

LIFE program students Alexis Orkfritz, left, and Sera Lira, center, smile as they watch a television program while working out inside the Williams Center with program coordinator Ashlea Roselle, right, at UW-Whitewater on Thursday.

“If you look at the Individuals with Disabilities Act, basically what it says is that students with disabilities need to be served in the least restrictive environment to the maximum extent appropriate,” Collins said. “It’s the last few words that people—I think, personally—tend to forget about.”

People hear “least restrictive” and automatically think of the general education setting, he said.

As for picking UW-Whitewater over a Family Care program, it’s about giving students options, Collins said.

People think of high school as serving as a bridge to college and then to employment, he said.

“We’re building a bridge for students to college and to benefit from college, not only the programming but the entire college experience,” Collins said. “And then, of course, our job is to build that bridge back out into the community for students.”

But state agencies such as the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and nonprofit companies such as Aptiv provide many of those services for free to people with intellectual disabilities. The money comes from funding for Family Care, the state program for adults with disabilities.

Anthony Wahl 

LIFE program students Alexis Orkfritz, left, and Sera Lira, center, talk with program coordinator Ashlea Roselle, right, at the gym Thursday.

Why should the families of people with disabilities pay for training they can get for free?

For Denise Barnes, mother of Nathan Barnes, the LIFE program was exactly the right fit.

Nathan spent some time at Shepherds College.

“At one point, he called me up and said, ‘Mom, this is a group home,’” Denise said. “I told him, ‘No, Bud, it’s really not.’ He said, ‘They might call it a college, but it’s really a group home.’”

He had no peer group there, Denise said.

She believed he was ready to live independently but wasn’t quite ready to embrace life’s opportunities with confidence.

The LIFE program has given him that peer group and improved his willingness to try new things and meet new people. He’s joined a criminal justice club and American Sign Language Club. “He’s doing everything,” she said with a laugh.

How taken is he with his college experience?

He doesn’t wear anything but Warhawk colors.

Anthony Wahl 

LIFE program student Nathan Barnes gets a hug from his mother, Denise Barnes, after dropping off drinks and snacks for her son Thursday evening at UW-Whitewater.

Doubts persist for Dem voters about female nominee in 2020


In a perfect world, Susan Stepp, a 73-year-old retiree, would be voting vote for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary Tuesday, she says. But that won’t be happening.

“I am not sure a woman is the best candidate to go up against Trump,” Stepp said recently as she stood in the back of a conference room listening to tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang as part of her hunt for the best candidate to challenge the Republican incumbent.

Stepp’s concern has coursed through the Democratic primary for months, registering in polling, interviews and, now, the first votes cast. In Iowa’s caucuses last Monday, many Democrats did not prioritize breaking the gender barrier to the Oval Office and they viewed being a woman as a hindrance rather than an advantage in the race.

Only about one-third of Iowa caucusgoers backed a female candidate. Topping the caucus field were two men, former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Women were only slightly more likely than men to back one of the three women in the race, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 3,000 Iowa voters.

Most Iowa Democrats said it was important for a woman to be president in their lifetimes. But many voters, including about half of all women, said a female nominee would have a harder time beating Donald Trump in November.

“He will just use that against her, like he did Hillary,” Stepp said, looking back to Trump’s 2016 race against Hillary Clinton in 2016. “He doesn’t debate. He just insults. I don’t think he would have that same effect if he went up against a strong man.” Stepp said she plans to vote for Sanders.

Those perceptions present an undeniable headwind for the women in the race, who have spent months making the case that a woman can win. As they seek success in New Hampshire, both Warren and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar must work to energize voters about the chance to make history and persuade them it is possible this year, in this race against this president.

“In 2020, we can and should have a woman for president,” Warren said at a CNN town hall this past week, days after taking third in Iowa. Klobuchar came in fifth. The Associated Press has not called a winner in the Iowa caucus because the race is too close to call.

Iowans appeared open to that message. Most Democratic voters in the state, 72%, said they thought it is important for the U.S. to elect a woman president in their lifetimes, and that included roughly two-thirds of men.

But most were resolved to put it off for another election. That was true of men and women. The survey found 34% of women voted for Warren, Klobuchar or the longshot candidacy of Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, compared with 28% of men.

Overall, many Democratic voters thought it would be harder for a woman to beat Trump. About half of women said they thought a female nominee would have a harder time, compared with about 4 in 10 men. Men who harbored that concern were significantly less likely to vote for a woman than a man.

Experts say the findings are in line with traditional patterns in voting by gender—women usually don’t coalesce around one of their own. “Nobody’s going to win an election by unifying women because women are not a unified bloc,” said Kathy Dolan, a political scientist at UW-Milwaukee. “There’s no evidence that suggests for us that women candidates vote much more for women candidates than men.”

Analysts say it’s no surprise that women express more anxiety about a woman defeating Trump, given that through personal experience, they’re familiar with the barriers of sexism.

“Women are more likely to have experienced or observed gender discrimination or sexism,” said Jill Lawless, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.

Notably, experts said, there’s no data showing that women underperform or outperform men in general elections. But Lawless noted that having to fight that perception that a woman cannot win may actually work against the female candidates in this race.

“Anytime they’re trying to convince voters that a woman can beat Donald Trump, they’re not talking about health care or foreign affairs,” she said.

Warren spent months trying to avoid the gender issue, seeing questions about pervasive sexism in politics as a lose-lose proposition. Either she acknowledged that being a woman created all kinds of challenges because of inherent bias, and appeared to be whining about it, or she said it wasn’t a problem and would therefore seem out of touch, she told aides.

But, since the New Year, Warren has shifted her strategy dramatically, taking the issue head on. She raised it directly in asserting that Sanders had suggested a woman couldn’t win the White House, and, after they clashed about it during a debate in Iowa, refused to shake his hand on national television.

In the final days before Iowa, Warren began talking about a woman’s electability. She now repeats at every campaign stop that women have performed better in recent elections than men, underscoring the role of female candidates who helped Democrats retake control of the House in 2018.

“The world has changed since 2016,” Warren said during a rally this past week in Keene, New Hampshire. “Women have been outperforming men in competitive races. Can women win? You bet women can win.”

Pushpa Mudan, a 68-year-old retired physician, is one of those anxious women who’s sticking to her guns. She attended a Warren rally on Wednesday at a community college in Nashua, New Hampshire.

She said she’s seen Warren three times in recent months, and also attended a recent Klobuchar rally, and is still deciding between the two, though she’ll likely pick Warren in the primary. Mudan said electing a woman as president is a top issue for her, but she’s afraid that none will be able to compete with Trump.

“I think this country, for considering itself an advanced country, is very far behind the rest of the world by not having a woman at the highest position,” she said. “Places like Pakistan, Turkey have had a female president. Not here. But the way Trump puts them down, it is hard for any to make it, I think. It’s going to be very hard.”

Submitted photo 

Kendra Finfrock of Evansville learns fire-building skills at cadet winter tactical training in December at Camp Liberty in Alabama.

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Various trends feed UW-Whitewater’s declining enrollment


Continuing a three-year trend, a steep 4% decline in enrollment last fall led UW-Whitewater administrators to announce their goal to make $12 million in base budget cuts over the next two years.

With layoffs expected, the campus is anxiously starting the spring semester figuring out where the cuts and savings will come from.

But UW-W is not the only UW System school suffering from less tuition revenue generated by fewer students.

UW-W recorded the fourth-biggest enrollment drop in fall, according to preliminary 2019 enrollment figures released by the UW System in October. Eight universities saw declines; two had increases of 0.1%, and three others saw increases.

Overall, the UW System had a 2.6% decline in enrollment, according to the preliminary figures. One demographic trend the system cited in a news release was fewer graduating high school students.

Matt Aschenbrener, UW-W’s associate vice chancellor for enrollment and retention, said the state has seen slightly fewer high school graduates overall. But after digging deeper, he said some of the university’s recruiting areas have seen decreases, while others have seen increases.

So perhaps high school graduation trends are not hurting UW-W as much as other state universities, but broad state trends still have their way of affecting Whitewater.

Aschenbrener said when other system schools struggle with enrollment, they expand their recruitment pools—which UW-W has done. But that means those pools become more competitive.

He said UW-W focuses on a 17-county region—Walworth, Rock, Jefferson, Columbia, Dodge, Washington, Ozaukee, Dane, Waukesha, Milwaukee, Green, Racine and Kenosha counties in Wisconsin and Winnebago, Boone, McHenry and Lake counties in Illinois.

About 80% of UW-W students come from an 80-mile radius around the university, Aschenbrener said in a recent email.

Looking forward, the counties surrounding Milwaukee—including Walworth County—are projected to lose more graduates than anywhere in the state by 2025-26, according to UW-Madison’s Applied Population Laboratory in a December 2017 report projecting high school graduate figures.

Milwaukee and Dane counties, however, are projected to see large increases.

The Colorado-based Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education tracks high school graduation figures and also makes projections for all 50 states. Aschenbrener shared the organization’s website, which projects that Wisconsin will see some increases in graduation numbers until 2025. After that, those numbers will drop to levels below any year since 2001.

Another broader factor at play in declining enrollment is a strong economy, Aschenbrener said. The thinking goes: A degree is not necessary to find a relatively high-paying job when unemployment is low, but if the economy goes south, people see degrees as necessary for them to be competitive.

Over the next five to 10 years, Aschenbrener said he sees university enrollment remaining flat or increasing slightly.

He emphasized that the university looks at a variety of factors to make enrollment projections. In a similar vein, getting out of an enrollment hole calls for a variety of solutions.

UW-W and other system schools will get some help on one of those solutions—tuition. The Board of Regents on Friday approved tuition increases for out-of-state and graduate students at six universities, according to The Associated Press.

UW-Whitewater, along with UW-Milwaukee and UW-Platteville, will increase nonresident undergraduate tuition between 1% and 3%, AP reported.

A tuition freeze has been in effect for in-state undergraduate students since 2013, but officials throughout the UW System for years have talked about how it has affected them financially.

“Really, that has significantly hurt us,” Aschenbrener said of the freeze. “Multiple years of that has hurt in a number of ways.”

At a Feb. 4 bill signing in Milton, a Gazette reporter asked Gov. Tony Evers how the state can help institutions such as UW-W. The governor said the declining high school population “will be an issue.”

“So first of all, campuses have to understand they will have to do some shrinkage there as it relates to the number of staff,” Evers said. “But also, we have to make sure that the state has adequate resources for that.

“As a member of the Board of Regents for 11 years, I saw budget after budget, kind of demoralizing and cutting to the University of Wisconsin System,” he said. “We have to at least keep it to a place where tuition is kept reasonable and we’re able to offer the courses that we need.

“So it’s critical.”

Obituaries and death notices for Feb. 9, 2020

Diane M. Berg

J.W. Davis

Leila J. Esser

Genevieve Arlene Fellows

Doris A. Geiter

Theodore D. Kinnaman

Helen J. Milam

Dennis “Jim” Pfister

Bernard “Ben” Stewart

Patrick T. Sullivan Sr.

Richard B. Treptow

Leo “Shorty” Wojcik III