It’s a time of transition at the University of Wisconsin campuses across the New North.
Last July 1, the New North went from being home to seven University of Wisconsin campuses to just two as the UW System merged its two- and four-year campuses in a move designed not only to save money but also provide students with more opportunities. As part of the merger, UW-Oshkosh now includes the former two-year schools in Fond du Lac and the Fox Valley campus in Menasha, while UW-Green Bay now includes campuses in Marinette, Sheboygan and Manitowoc.
“We knew this would be a year of transition and it looks like we’ll have a couple years of transition,” says UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt. “The end result will be an overall stronger university that will be better able to meet the demands of students. We have become a more comprehensive university, offering everything from certifications to Ph.D. programs.”
UW-Green Bay Chancellor Gary Miller agrees it will take a while to truly bring the campuses together but that students have already seen the benefits of the merger.
“Students at the other campuses in Marinette, Manitowoc and Sheboygan are now considered UW-Green Bay students, so if they were planning to come here after completing their two-year program, the enrollment process is so much easier since they are already a part of the university,” he says. “We will also be able to bring more offerings to the two-year campuses, which is good for the communities where they’re located.”
But as is the case with business mergers, the UW mergers create not only opportunity and convenience, but also raise questions and concerns.
On the same page
Prior to the July 2018 mergers, UW Colleges ran the two-year campuses, while the UW System ran the four-year universities. In 2017, the UW Board of Regents approved restructuring the two- and four-year schools, keeping all the two-year campuses open. In June 2018, the Higher Learning Commission approved the plan, which set July 1 as the first date for the new structure.
During the merger’s first phase — which will be complete this year — the two-year campuses will function largely as they did previously while preparing to internally integrate administrative functions with UW System services. During the next phase, the four-year universities’ operational planning and services will be integrated into the two-year campuses.
Miller says the UW System and UW Colleges did not use all the same technical and operational systems, which created a few technical difficulties as the merger got underway. He points out that data, whether it is from administrative departments such as human resources or related to students, is on different systems, and the UW System is working on getting everything on one system.
At UW-Oshkosh, for example, Leavitt says the Oshkosh campus used one email system while the Fox Valley-Fond du Lac campuses used another.
“We’re making the switch to their email system, but it’s always a challenge getting people to give up one email system for another since you’re so used to what you have,” he says.
The schools did not have much time to plan or prepare to implement the merger, Miller says.
“There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes,” he says. “For example, we are working on what we need to do to transition the other three schools’ accreditation to UWGB.”
One advantage to bringing the two- and four-year campuses together is the potential to eventually offer bachelor’s degree programs in the smaller communities, says Martin Rudd, assistant chancellor for access campuses for UW-Oshkosh.
“Eventually, we would love the ability to offer bachelor’s degrees at all three of our campuses so students can earn their degrees closer to home,” he says. “We can better serve our communities due to efficiencies of scale. We can provide more student support on the access campuses.”
The ability to offer bachelor’s degrees at campuses such as Marinette would benefit the local community and those who live there, says Cindy Bailey, campus executive officer for the UW-Green Bay, Marinette campus.
“As we get further down the road, I definitely see us having the option to offer baccalaureate degrees right here in Marinette,” she says. “That’s really exciting and gives a new outlook to the region and for the communities.”
Some adults with associate degrees who want to continue their education may have been stymied by distance in the past, but bringing those programs closer may encourage some to finish their degree, Miller says.
“We’ll be looking at ways to offer upper-level courses in local communities. There will be much more focus on adult education at our campuses in Marinette, Sheboygan and Manitowoc,” he says.
At UW-Oshkosh, officials worked with UW-Platteville to transition its agreement related to offering engineering courses and degrees at UW-Fox Valley, Rudd says.
“We definitely knew that would continue, and it’s such a value to the region,” he says. “We have been able to broaden it so students can take engineering classes at the Oshkosh campus.”
UW-Oshkosh offered one engineering program — engineering technology — prior to the merger, and Leavitt says bringing the UW-Platteville courses to the Oshkosh campus is vital.
“We have been able to expand our offerings here,” he says. “It is such an important area since so many businesses need engineers. The Fox Valley campus was the first to offer an engineering program in the region and we are fortunate to carry that on. Since then, UW-Green Bay added an engineering program, but anything we can do to create more opportunities for engineer training is a bonus.”
Both Miller and Leavitt say their universities remain committed to working with local technical colleges and continuing any programs they had with the two-year campuses.
“The technical colleges are a valued partner for us, and we plan to keep working together to the benefit of our students and communities,” Miller says. “The technical schools are very complementary to what we do.”
With the former two-year schools becoming part of a four-year university, leaders are still addressing some issues related to curriculum.
“What we had as requirements for our associate degree are not quite the same requirements as what they have on the Green Bay campus, so it’s working with our staff to make sure we get those classes offered so our students don’t miss a beat,” Bailey says. “We need to merge our curriculum catalog, things like that.”
Leavitt says there have been “robust” debates on curriculum and policies at the three UW-Oshkosh campuses. “The access campuses are full partners. In the end, we will have one cohesive university,” he says.
While the UW-Green Bay curriculum is being finalized, Bailey admits some Marinette students are a bit anxious since in years past they would know by late February what the class schedule for the fall would look like. “Green Bay has a different timeline, so there is some additional waiting involved,” she says.
Building a new culture
When talking about UW-Oshkosh, Leavitt says it’s important to consider word usage. For example, the campuses in Fond du Lac and Menasha are called access campuses versus satellite campuses.
“We are one university with three campuses. Oshkosh is the Oshkosh campus, not the main campus or head campus,” he says. “All three campuses are robust, distinct and serve their communities. It all comes down to how can we best serve the region.”
Rudd says the access campuses have embraced being a part of one university with Oshkosh. “The campuses serve different communities and their individual character remains embedded,” he says.
With a presence now in 16 counties, UW-Green Bay covers eastern Wisconsin from Sheboygan County to the Wisconsin-Michigan state line.
“The merger has transitioned us into a multiregional institution,” Miller says. “The UW Colleges and the four-year colleges were separate entities before, and now we need to find a system that works for all four of our campuses. There’s a lot of collaboration going on, which I think is exciting for the region.”
Where students go
For both UW-Green Bay and UW-Oshkosh, most of the students from the two-year campuses they merged with transferred to those respective universities to complete their bachelor’s degrees.
“Many students viewed the two-year campuses as a way to begin college closer to home and as a way to save some money,” says Martin Rudd, assistant chancellor for access campuses for UW-Oshkosh. “The (UW) System made it easy to transfer from a campus like Fox Valley to UW-Madison or any of the four-year schools.”
When students apply at UW-Oshkosh, Rudd says they can now select which campus to start at — whether it’s Fox Valley, Oshkosh or Fond du Lac.
“And if students decide to start in Fond du Lac, for example, when they get their associate degree, they can just continue their education at the Oshkosh campus,” he says. “There’s no need to apply since they are already UW-Oshkosh students.”
UW-Green Bay Chancellor Gary Miller says the enrollment process in Green Bay is now much simpler for students after attending school in Marinette, Manitowoc or Sheboygan.
“They are already considered UW-Green Bay students, so it will be a click on a screen changing their campus from Manitowoc to Green Bay, for example,” he says.