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Perry's Testimony to the Joint Committee on Higher Education

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Testimony to the Joint Committee on Higher Education
March 2, 2005
James W. Perry, Campus Executive Officer and Dean
UW-Fox Valley

Senator Harsdorf, Representative Kreibich, members of this joint committee on higher education, I am pleased to be before you today to represent the views of the other 12 UW Colleges campus executives and deans who are here to show their support for the mission of all 13 campuses of the University of Wisconsin Colleges.

There are some obvious and not so obvious reasons why I have been selected to represent the Colleges. Most obvious of course is my administrative position within the Colleges. After establishing my academic reputation within the University System of Maryland I returned to Wisconsin in 1993 because I sincerely wanted to give back to a system of higher education to which I owe whatever professional success I have experienced. I am the longest serving of the Colleges deans.

What is not so obvious is that I personally owe much to the Colleges. In many respects I have the ideal position in serving as my campus’ most visible leader. In 1966 I began my undergraduate education as a 17-year-old college student at the University of Wisconsin Marathon County in Wausau. My freshman and sophomore years at UW-Marathon prepared me academically and set into motion the subsequent events that led to a bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from UW-Madison. I am not at all reluctant to tell you that if it were not for UW-Marathon County, I am certain that I would not be here today.

Thus, both in my professional role, and as an alumnus I am here today to ask you to not dismantle the single institution comprised of 13 UW Colleges campuses. The Colleges campuses are arguably the very best thing going for the start of a university education within the entire University of Wisconsin System.

As I am certain you know by virtue of the numerous letters you have received from our faculty, from our staff, from our foundations, and from our Board of Visitors, the concept of nucleating the 2-year campuses with the regional 4-year campuses of the UW System is anything but new. As an example, my campus, UW-Fox Valley, was part of UW-Green Bay from 1969 to 1972. When UWFox became part of UW-Green Bay our enrollments declined as students were encouraged not to attend the “Menasha” campus but instead begin their education directly at Green Bay. Resources for classroom equipment and supplies went to the parent campuses. In short, it was not working.

In 1972 when the 2-year campuses were reorganized into a single institution, enrollments rebounded. We have since seen steady increases and now our campuses are enjoying record demand from our local communities. Indeed, the Colleges are being seen by many as the best place to begin an undergraduate education, primarily because of the focus of our dedicated faculty. These faculty are hired because they have genuine interest in educating first and second year students, rather than concentrating on upper class or graduate students, or a career dedicated to research.

Thanks to the support of our county and municipal sponsors who provide the funding for our campus facilities, our students have learning environments unparalleled for first and second year students within the UW System.

Thanks to the partnership among the counties, municipalities and the State of Wisconsin, classroom equipment meets the needs for 21st century education, unlike the bad old days of pre-merger.

Thanks to the 13 independent foundations at each of the UW Colleges awarded $760,000 in scholarships last year. Over the last several years these foundations have raised millions to create spaces that would not otherwise exist. Take for example the Weis Earth Science Museum and the Barlow Planetarium at UW-Fox Valley. These represent $3.8 million in philanthropic giving alone. At UW-Washington County the Collens Foundation provided $1 million for the recent campus reconstruction and another $1 million for programming and scholarships. UW-Rock County is in he midst of a $1 million capital campaign for their library project. At UW-Sheboygan the Brotz family Foundation provided $0.5 million for their science building. There is a very good chance that these foundations will not be interested in continuing these activities if the Colleges become merged with a regional 4-year campus. That translates into the loss of millions of dollars in local support.

To suggest that we should break up an institution that has experienced such great success is unconscionable.

Of course the idea of nucleation is not based upon the desire to dismantle success but rather on the desire to gain administrative efficiencies. Representative Kreibich’s idea is ostensibly about saving dollars for the state of Wisconsin while at the same time and increasing opportunity. Our analysis is that mergers or nucleations would actually increase costs and have no positive effect on providing more baccalaureate education.

Among all UW System institutions, the UW Colleges is the most efficiently operated. Simply stated, the cost for undergraduate education is lower in the Colleges than any other UW campus.

The UW Colleges have the lowest tuition within the UW System. If all of the UW Colleges students were to attend one of the 4-year university campus, they would pay at least $5 million more than they are paying currently for tuition.

The UW Colleges have the lowest operating cost per student FTE in the state of Wisconsin. To put this into perspective, if all of the UW Colleges students were to attend one of the 4-year campuses today, it would cost the taxpayers an additional $15 million.

According to the Legislative Audit Bureau, the number of students per UW employee ranges from 2.2 to 9.8. Guess which institution has the high number – the greatest number of students served per employee? The UW Colleges.

Why would a legislative body wish to dismantle the MOST efficient institution of higher education in our state?

A merger would cost the state additional money for operational support of the buildings that are currently maintained by the municipalities. Not all of the counties and municipalities are of the mind that has been attributed to Waukesha County. On Monday, one of my colleagues reported to me that his county board told him that if that campus were to be merged with a comprehensive campus “we’ll be asking for our money back” referring to the millions invested in our infrastructure.

Costs would increase in virtually every operating system as money would need to be spent to align instructional technology operations, library systems, personnel systems, software, training, administration and curriculum. Moreover, equity in faculty salaries will become an issue. UW Colleges faculty already paid substantially less than their peers. If the 2-year campuses are nucleated with the regional universities, the faculty will expect their salaries to be commensurate with those on the parent campus. Faculty salaries are the state’s responsibility.

My final thought on costs is that recently we were asked for considerable financial information by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. We’re unsure of the reason for that request, but if a formal analysis has not been done, it should be.

Nucleation would compromise our ongoing programs, programs with clear academic integrity and demonstrable success. Students who begin their undergraduate education at the UW Colleges campuses and who transfer persist and graduate at a higher rate than the students from any other institution of higher education in the state of Wisconsin, public or private. There are many reasons why this is the case. Among them, we are engaging our students in learning experiences through successful student focused programming such as our Engaging Students in the First Year program and in learning communities. Assessment of student learning in our classes is very similar to that in the junior-senior year at the 4-year campuses and thus our students are prepared for the rigors that they will experience after transfer.

Speaking of transfer, our students do not wish to be restricted to transfer to a parent campus. Our liberal arts general education program is designed to allow easy movement anywhere within the state. Nucleation would surely bring a return to the bad old days in which the alignment of curriculum between parent and satellite was so strict that cross institutional transfer was only a dream. It is a goal of the State to increase the numbers of Wisconsin citizens who earn a bachelor’s degree; nucleating Colleges campuses with 4-year institutions will work against that goal.

The media has certainly picked up on the interest of UWM in UW-Waukesha. And it may be that some at UWM would like to move into affluent Waukesha. But in my area, both Chancellor Shepard at UW-Green Bay and Chancellor Wells at UW-Oshkosh have said unequivocally that they think nucleation is not best for the students in Northeastern Wisconsin, and they are not interested in having any of our campuses under their auspices. They have their hands full as it is with their own operations.

The UW Colleges campuses have thrived as a single free-standing institution. We are models of adaptability and change. For example, we have streamlined administrative services and coupled them with local student services. We have integrated online associate degrees, further increasing access to Wisconsin residents. Our pioneering work in learning communities serves as a model within the UW System.

The idea of nucleating any of the 2-year campuses with a regional 4-year university is an old and a bad idea, an idea whose time came and went in the early 70s. Recently it has been suggested that this program be piloted at UW-Barron County and UW-Stout alone. This is an interesting strategy – one that seems less threatening. Pilots sound innocent enough but it would severely disrupt the live of the 79% of the UW-Barron County students who do not intending to transfer to Stout.

We are not interested in beginning the break up of the 13 UW Colleges. Based upon the analysis that we have done and which I invite any member of the legislature or the public to scrutinize, the idea of renucleating any of the UW Colleges campuses with any of the 4-year campuses makes no dollars and no sense.

What does make sense is to implement the proposal that President Reilly has championed and which the Board of Regents has unanimously endorsed – to consolidate the administrative functions of the Colleges and UW Extension. This proposal provides demonstrable net savings for the state taxpayer.

Now, while it was not my charge to offer further ideas on how to reinvent higher education in the state of Wisconsin, I can tell you that I do have several. These are ideas that are not chipping away around the margins but that could have significant long range impact for educational opportunity for the citizens of this state. We have heard from reputable groups such as NorthStar Economics and economic futurist Rebecca Ryan that the path to economic prosperity in the state of Wisconsin is to offer more bachelor’s degrees to our citizens. Nucleation will not accomplish that. I suggest to you that President Reilly’s proposal has that potential.

Already each and every UW Colleges campus is involved in collaborative bachelor’s degrees with 4-year institutions. Nine of our 13 campuses are collaborating with UW-Milwaukee alone, due to an aggressive campaign of former UWM Chancellor Nancy Zimpfer. UW-Marshfield/Wood County and UW-Marathon County offer collaborative bachelor’s degrees in General Studies, Web and Digital Media Development and Business Administration with UW-Stevens Point. My campus, UW-Fox Valley, has a collaborative degree in Organizational Administration with UW Oshkosh and Mechanical Engineering with UW-Platteville. I mention the latter because it is notable that this collaborative work need not take place within the region. Platteville is a long way from Menasha, but it’s working wonderfully, with over 100 students in this Mechanical Engineering program. In total, the Colleges have over 50 collaborative programs with ten of the four-year institutions. And we would welcome more.

If the state of Wisconsin and the legislature is really serious about achieving efficiencies and at the same time growing the Wisconsin economy, the answer is to look to what the UW Colleges and UW Extension can offer and not to be working around the margins with the idea of nucleation.

In 1969 there were a lot of Oldsmobiles on the road. Despite a slick advertising campaign –“This is not your father’s Oldsmobile” – those cars are only seen in old car shows. The 1969 idea of nucleation of the two year campuses with regional four year institutions deserves the same fate as the Oldsmobile – obsolete and relegated to history.

Posted on 3/3/2005