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Plan proposes merger of UW System two-year, four-year campuses

An Oct. 11 announcement from University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross outlined a proposed restructuring that would affect the UW Colleges, UW-Extension and the system's four-year campuses, including UW-Eau Claire and UW-Barron County in Rice Lake.

The restructuring plan, which will go before the UW System Board of Regents for approval in November, calls for merging all UW System two-year colleges with their nearest four-year institutions beginning July 1, 2018. Under the plan, UW-Barron County would become affiliated with UW-Eau Claire. (See a map of the proposed mergers.)

The plan also proposes assigning divisions within UW-Extension to UW-Madison and UW System Administration.

"This decision comes at a time when UW campuses are managing enrollment and financial challenges," Cross said in a message to UW-Eau Claire faculty, staff and student leaders. "Demographic trends indicate that current enrollment challenges are not likely to significantly improve in coming years."

Cross said the restructuring would ensure the UW System can continue to effectively serve students and the state.

"By integrating our campuses — leveraging resources and shared talent across the campuses — we can greatly improve access and enhance offerings to the communities we serve, while realizing efficiencies and potential cost savings," Cross' message read.

Chancellor James Schmidt said UW-Eau Claire and UW-Barron County have a strong foundation on which to build a new partnership.

"UW-Barron County and UW-Eau Claire have long enjoyed an excellent relationship, with many students beginning their college careers in Rice Lake and completing their degrees in Eau Claire," Schmidt said in email messages to UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff and to the students, faculty and staff of UW-Barron County.

"I want to be clear from the outset that I believe this realignment plan presents tremendous opportunity for the future of our two campuses and our region of Wisconsin," Schmidt said in his email to the UW-Barron County campus community. "I am especially excited that this plan ensures the long-term future of UW-Barron County as an educational, cultural and economic asset for Rice Lake, Barron County and northwest Wisconsin."