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Panel discusses report proposing reorganization of UW System schools

Posted at 10:26 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 23:26:15-04

A Wisconsin state senator discussed a potential plan to reorganize the UW System schools during a panel discussion Tuesday hosted by the Wisconsin Alumni Association.

Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, chairs the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges. Last week he released a report on how to preserve the future of the UW System amid falling enrollment and population changes.

"We lost 15,000 students in the last decade, we're forecasted over the next 15 years in the System to lose another 15,000 students," Sen. Roth said during the panel Tuesday.

One of the suggestions is to let the tuition freeze expire at the end of the budget cycle.

In its nearly 100 pages, the report cites Census data from 2010 to 2019, which shows the population of people under the age of 18 has gone down 5.4 percent statewide, which means 73,000 fewer children. The report also references enrollment data from 2009 to 2019, which shows a decline of more than 6 percent across the system as a whole.

The report does not suggest closing any campuses.

Instead, it suggests grouping campuses into four geographical regions, excluding UW-Madison. The Northwest region would include UW–Eau Claire, UW–River Falls, UW–Stout and UW–Superior. The Northeast region would include UW–Green Bay, UW–Oshkosh and UW–Stevens Point. The Southwest region would encompass UW–La Crosse and UW–Platteville. Then the Milwaukee region would be UW–Milwaukee, UW–Parkside and UW–Whitewater.

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It also recommends figuring out which programs at which schools could be combined, eliminated or expanded in-person or online.

Sen. Roth said the hope is to save about 15 percent of what the system spends currently.

"Any savings the University System has acquired through restructuring and reorganization have been recaptured by the Legislature and taken out of the budget," said former UW System President Katharine Lyall during Tuesday's panel. "There needs to be some guarantee in the statutes that those savings remain with the University."

"Am I going to have a job? Are they going to consolidate and get rid of me? I think about those sorts of things," said UW-Milwaukee senior lecturer Joette Rockow.

Rockow said going forward she would like to see more support from legislators.

"Give what we need so that we can provide our students a world-class education, and not have to, I'm sorry, but sometimes it feels like we are holding our departments and our monetary needs together with duct tape and crazy glue," Rockow said.

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