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Monday, March 01, 2021

Thompson looks to unite technical colleges with system campuses

Interim president of the University of Wisconsin System Tommy Thompson recently addressed his consideration of consolidating the UW System's branch campuses with the Wisconsin Technical Schools to tackle financial and efficiency problems within the state's education system.  

Thompson’s idea first came into discussion at a Wisconsin Policy Forum panel in January. Most aspects of the potential plan are currently unknown, as its details are still up for discussion between Thompson and the president of the Wisconsin Technical College System, Morna Foy.

The consolidation pitch comes amid financial strain and a decline in enrollment across the UW System. According to Thompson, a cohesive partnership between the two systems has the potential to boost enrollment and save money. 

“You start to think about is there a sort of hybrid model that we could create that adds value to the state of Wisconsin,” Thompson said in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal. “I’m not convinced that it needs to be at the UW. It could be at the tech college system. It could be jointly managed.”

Part of the problem has to do with the locations of buildings, according to Thompson. UW System branches and state technical campuses are often very close to each other, and Thompson said consolidation of buildings of resources could cut costs and prevent campus closures. 

Though details of the consolidation are still unknown, the state technical college system has not shown support for the idea. Foy expressed resistance to the idea of the UW System taking responsibility over a technical college. Foy said the technical colleges’ primary focus is making postsecondary education more accessible to nontraditional students. 

The two school systems consist of vastly different student bodies and educational focuses. According to Kelly Meyerhofer of the Wisconsin State Journal, UW System students are primarily seeking a four year degree right out of high school, whereas state technical colleges mostly educate adults learning technical skills on a part time basis. 

UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone and UW-Green Bay Chancellor Michael Alexander have shown interest in Thompson’s idea of consolidation. UW Board of Regents President Drew Petersen has emphasized expanding education to more students, potentially by establishing a collaborative relationship with technical colleges. 

The proposal of consolidation has been presented before. In 2015, Republican lawmakers introduced the idea but ultimately decided merging the systems should be a decision made and implemented by the two education systems. The merger was regarded as a complicated and intricate issue by most lawmakers involved.  

Former UW System President Ray Cross also considered the merger and expressed support for changes within the state's education system, though he never enacted any substantial changes. 

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