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Some welcome news came regarding the University of Wisconsin System late last week.

The UW System’s plan to merge its 13 two-year campuses with seven of its four-year colleges received approval from its accreditation agency Thursday, following the timeline officials first presented last fall in what will be the UW System’s biggest shift since its inception by the Legislature in 1971.

Accreditation, administrative oversight and each individual institution’s reporting structures was to formally transfer over Sunday, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Friday.

“Our primary concern is ensuring the UW System is in a position to provide greater access, affordability, and opportunity for our students and the state of Wisconsin,” UW System President Ray Cross said. “To help meet Wisconsin’s growing needs, it is imperative we take action now and be increasingly bold in our efforts to get more students into and through the educational pipeline.”

Cross presented the merger last fall as a way to streamline efficiency, address declining student enrollment and strengthen the pipeline from two-year campuses to four-year universities.

The Higher Learning Commission approved the plan, which will allow the four-year schools permission to award associate degrees. The deal also dissolves the University of Wisconsin–Extension as its own entity and moves its functions to UW-Madison and the central System office. For example, UW-Madison will oversee Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio, which split from the campus in 1965.

Officials expect the restructuring to span two years, though they stressed conversations surrounding the transition have already begun. In phase one, July 1 through June 30, 2019, the two-year campuses will largely function as they already do, but iron out some internal integration. Phase two — slated for July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020 — will involve the four-year campuses fully integrating the two-year schools. The naming of each branch campus is one of many logistical hurdles to be addressed.

Logically enough, the four-year campuses are absorbing the two-year campuses nearest them: UW-Oshkosh will take in UW-Fox Valley, UW-Milwaukee will absorb UW-Waukesha and UW-Green Bay will take in UW-Manitowoc, to cite some of the examples.

While UW-Parkside was not assigned an affiliate two-year campus, another popular destination for Racine County students, UW-Whitewater, is to absorb UW-Rock County. According to an announcement from Whitewater, the Regents will consider UW-Rock County’s new name — the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater at Rock County — at its August meeting.

We see the streamlining as nothing but positive for the students who, for example, begin their post-high-school education at a two-year campus like Rock County, obtain an associate degree, then decide to continue their education — in business or finance, for example — in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree at Whitewater. The System merger will make it easier for that hypothetical Rock County student to move on to Whitewater.

The transfer of accreditation and administrative oversight to the four-year campuses should ensure that the System is getting the biggest bang for each taxpayer buck.

We’re happy to see the UW System move forward in a manner that benefits students and taxpayers alike.

We see the streamlining as nothing but positive for the students who, for example, begin their post-high-school education at a two-year campus like Rock County, obtain an associate’s degree, then decide to continue their education — in business or finance, for example — in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree at Whitewater. The System merger will make it easier for that hypothetical Rock County student to move on to Whitewater.
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