Would offering more associate degrees at technical schools hurt Wisconsin’s 2-year colleges?

by Jeremy

Dive Brief:

  • A bill under consideration in Wisconsin would allow the state’s technical college system to offer more two-year degrees.
  • The legislation, sponsored by more than two dozen Republican state lawmakers, removes a provision from state law requiring the technical colleges to get approval from the state’s regent board to offer a full-time program whose credits are transferable to a four-year university.
  • Higher education experts say the change could help all of the state’s public colleges counter falling enrollment, but the university system argues it will increase competition.

Dive Insight:

Wisconsin announced plans in 2017 to consolidate its two-year and four-year public colleges. State officials have recently discussed shrinking Wisconsin’s postsecondary education footprint by bringing together some technical colleges and two-year schools.

These initiatives have been billed in part as an attempt to improve enrollment.

Enrollment across the 16-institution Wisconsin Technical College System fell 25% over the last decade to around 286,000 students in the 2019-20 academic year. The situation at the University of Wisconsin System’s two-year campuses is also dire. Its enrollment of 7,400 students in fall 2019 was around half of what it was a decade before. Enrollment at its four-year campuses fell only about 4% during that time.

The university system contends the bill would increase competition between the state’s technical colleges and its two-year schools and cause some of the latter to close, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. A university system spokesperson did not respond to Higher Ed Dive’s request for comment Friday by press time. Six technical colleges offer associate programs now, the Journal reported. Iris Palmer, a senior adviser at New America, a left-leaning think tank, thinks the change is more likely to create opportunities. The bill would also lift a requirement that the technical colleges sign off on

The university system is adding training for “semiprofessional or skilled-trade” jobs. You’re allowing the different methods with their different orientations to experiment sort of on the … edges of what their core competencies are,” Palmer said. “These different types of institutions appeal to different types of students. And there is a good possibility that what you would end up doing is increasing access for everybody, instead of competing for students, specifically.”

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