- 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.
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.”