Daily Bread for 1.24.22: It’s Slow Decline That Afflicts the UW System

Good morning.

Monday in Whitewater will be snowy and cloudy with a high of 21.  Sunrise is 7:15 AM and sunset 4:58 PM for 9h 42m 29s of daytime.  The moon is waning gibbous with 60.9% of its visible disk illuminated.

 Whitewater’s Urban Forestry Commission meets at 4:30 PM, Downtown Whitewater’s Board of Directors at 6 PM, and the Whitewater School Board after convening goes into closed session at approximately 6:15 PM and regular open session at 7 PM

 On this day in AD 41, Claudius is proclaimed Roman emperor by the Praetorian Guard after they assassinate the previous emperor, his nephew Caligula.

 Devi Shastri reports From enrollment declines, to student access, to trust issues, Rothman faces array of challenges as new head of UW System:

Among the major questions Rothman will face is one of how the system should be structured to meet the educational needs of future students.

His predecessor, Ray Cross, took the approach of consolidating the system’s 13 two-year campuses with its 13 four-year campuses, a controversial restructure aimed at curbing the financial impact of plummeting enrollment at the two-year community colleges, while hopefully getting more students to graduate.

More: UW System will propose merging two- and four-year campuses to cut costs, raise graduation numbers

More: Faculty groups slam UW System President Ray Cross for secretly planning sweeping restructuring

Cross then created a “blueprint” for what a strong, post-pandemic UW System would require, much to the dismay of faculty and staff across the system. In it, he called for program cuts, investment in online programs, and the changing of university missions to differentiate them better from one another, saying they could no longer be “all things to all people.”

More: UW System leader calls for academic cuts, layoffs, online advances to survive in post-pandemic world

The blueprint was not implemented, and Cross retired. But the conversation around such issues carries on.

Interim System President Tommy Thompson went in a slightly different direction, at one point floating the question of whether — between the UW System and the Wisconsin Technical College System — the state simply had too many campuses. That sparked a debate over the modern roles of each system, and how they may or may not be competing with one another.

Thompson called on lawmakers to launch a commission to look at the structure of higher education in Wisconsin holistically, a request that never came to fruition.

In May 2021, state Sen. Roger Roth, chair of the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges, added his ideas to the list, calling for the system to further consolidate the campuses into four geographic regions, excluding UW-Madison.

While all this discussion was taking place, enrollment at many UW schools — particularly the two-year campuses — continued to head in the wrong direction. Many buildings are operating with enrollments equivalent to an average elementary school.

According to the system’s final headcounts, released in November, total enrollment at UW-Milwaukee’s Washington County campus dropped 23% in the past school year, to 387 students. UW-Oshkosh’s Fond du Lac campus saw a 29% drop to 281 students. UW-Stevens Point’s Marshfield campus saw a 12% drop to 346 students.

The lowest enrollments in the system were at UW-Platteville’s branch campuses: the Baraboo Sauk County campus enrolls 216 students, down 4% from last school year and the Richland campus has just 75 students, down 31%.

The System itself is beset with enrollment decline, among other problems, not collapse. (Some of the smallest System campuses might face closure, and in fairness it likely feels like collapse to students and faculty in those places.)

And yet, and yet, even stagnation (not merely in enrollment, but more generally in vibrancy) would produce by definition relative decline in a productive society.

That’s no easy situation, as relative decline fortuitously does avoid immediate disaster but at the expense of the urgency that might bring better conditions. Jay Rothman has a hard task before him.

(Whitewater is like this: the city and her major institutions do not face collapse, but instead relative decline. The temptation for policymakers is to try a bit more of the same to turn conditions around. That approach hasn’t and won’t work. Only a turning away from officials’ general direction offers a better future.)

How cashmere is made:

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