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Map of propsed changes

This map shows that UW-Barron would become a part of UW-Eau Claire under a plan announced this fall.

In a November 2017 vote, the UW-Board of Regents greenlit a plan introduced by President Ray Cross to realign seven UW universities with 13 UW colleges, making the colleges branches of the universities.

Regionally, this means UW-Eau Claire is now partnered with UW-Barron County, while UW-Stout was not given a partner college.

UW-Eau Claire student Ryan Ring was supportive of the move and voted for it as a member of the regent board. Approved by Gov. Scott Walker in April 2017, Ring represents students on the board.

Ring said he talked to Cross about the move, citing that he thought the move was the best decision the system could make at the time to address enrollment numbers. But he said he understands the concerns, including those that say UW colleges will lose their identity as institutions designed for ease of access for students in higher education.

“That’s a very valid concern because whenever there’s restructuring there’s always unknowns,” said Ring, who also said the move was conducive to helping the system thrive.

Doug Mell, executive director of communications and external relations at UW-Stout, said the university and UW-Barron County have been connected since the college’s inception in 1966, when it was a branch of UW-Stout.

“We have a long history with that campus,” Mell said. “The chancellor [Bob Meyer] said that the most important, one of the most important factors for us going forward, will be keeping that strong relationship with UW-Barron County as it transitions.”

Of the 100 students that transfer from UW-Colleges to UW-Stout, Mell said 25 of them are from UW-Barron County.

Despite being excluded from gaining a partner college, UW-Stout, like all other UW schools, are included on a system-wide steering committee to help oversee the process, which has a July 1 deadline.

Nick Webber, a student representative within the UW system, is a student at UW-Eau Claire who took classes at UW-Barron County while in high school and now serves his university as vice president of Student Senate. Webber said he and others are focused on ways to best transition and partner with UW-Barron County, which he said was a great experience for him in high school.

Webber recently expressed his concern with fall 2017 comments made by Cross through emails obtained by Wisconsin Public Radio about shared governance. Cross is found to have intentionally kept his plans for restructuring secret from governance groups.

In a letter to the editor, Webber wrote, “I am certain that throughout this implementation process President Cross has come to appreciate the contributions shared governance leaders have made thus far. … It is my sincere hope that divisive sentiments toward the employees and student[s] of the University of Wisconsin System will no longer be tolerated.”

In the conversations Webber has had with different groups about the new partnerships, he said he has seen benefit in moving forward together.

For UW-Eau Claire’s Chancellor, James Schmidt, restructuring and the conversations around it isn’t new, having experienced it multiple times in higher education in Minnesota.

While Schmidt understands the concerns that come with restructuring, he said conversations and working together can only benefit the institutions and its students. Schmidt said higher education shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all, and the new partnerships will emphasize options.

Schmidt said UW-Eau Claire’s values line-up with those of UW-Barron County, and the two have already begun collaborating.

“I think we will make each other stronger,” Schmidt said.

In other recent UW news, the board of regents voted Friday to increase nonresident and graduate tuition rates at UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout and UW-Milwaukee’s business school, starting this fall, according to the Associated Press.

Nonresident undergraduate tuition at UW-Eau Claire will increase $539, while UW-Stout’s will increase $296. UW-Eau Claire’s nonresident undergraduate tuition for the materials science and engineering program will increase $391, and nonresident graduate tuition will increase $430. At UW-Stout, Minnesota residents under reciprocity agreements will pay $157 more in tuition, while nonresident graduate students under the Midwest Student Exchange Program would pay $166 more.

Last week, Cross also urged the system to do more to combat sexual assault, adding he will announce more specific plans in the future, and UW-Madison announced it will offer free tuition for in-state families making less than $56,000 a year.