(The Center Square) – The University of Wisconsin’s new name is landing flat.
UW president Jay Rothman announced earlier this week the system is changing its name from the UW system to the Universities of Wisconsin.
“The goal is to shift the emphasis from our system to our Universities, which create opportunities for students and improve communities all across the state. It’s an exciting change that I’m confident the people of Wisconsin will embrace with pride,” Rothman wrote in an op-ed explaining the change.
Sen. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, however, is unimpressed.
“Significant long-term challenges face the UW System such as declining enrollment, remote learning, a severe workforce shortage and a rapidly changing economy and will require a fundamental rethinking of how we deliver higher education,” Hutton said. “It is unfortunate the UW System chose to be distracted and spent half a million dollars on symbolism over substance. It certainly is discordant with the system’s narrative that they are starved for cash.”
Rothman said the name change is just one of many changes coming to the universities.
“We’re embarking on change across all of our universities, consistent with our strategic plan, to ensure Wisconsin wins the War for Talent,” Rothman said. “We set an ambitious goal to increase the number of graduates our universities produce each year from 37,000 to 41,000. To do that we need to enroll and retain more students at a time when there are fewer high school graduates coupled with a lower percentage of them enrolling in college.”
The latest fall enrollment numbers show most campuses have fewer students this year than last fall. Just five campuses – Madison, Green Bay, Platteville, Stevens Point and Whitewater – saw enrollment gains this fall. That means the eight others were either flat or saw declines.
“That’s why we’re launching a direct admissions program that will admit students capable of succeeding at our universities — before they even apply,” Rothman wrote. “We hope to encourage some students to think about obtaining a four-year degree who might otherwise have passed on this opportunity.”
Direct admissions mean Wisconsin students will simply need to graduate from high school in order to be accepted in a UW school.
Rothman said last spring that most UW campuses will be losing money by the end of this school year. That prompted the chancellors at UW-Oshkosh And UW-Parkside to order a round of either layoffs or furloughs to cut costs.
Hutton said he is waiting to hear what Rothman plans to do about that.
“I believe that there needs to be urgency within the UW System to implement bold, fundamental and necessary reforms to ensure UW’s future as a world class institution,” Hutton added. “I sincerely hope this rebranding is followed by the announcement of a significant reform agenda that will help the System address its long-term challenges.”