Lawmakers seek input on higher education in Waukesha County

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Dan Vrakas

Courtesy of JS Online:

Waukesha – State Rep. Paul Farrow and County Executive Dan Vrakas say they’re looking for ways to improve higher education in Waukesha County, ideas that could range from improving transfer of college credits to combining the county’s two-year schools into a single community college.

They’ll schedule listening sessions – two at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha County and two at Waukesha County Technical College – in February, though dates have not been set.

“You almost have to ask yourself, are these two institutions right down the street from each other, and both publicly funded, are they working closely enough?” Vrakas said.

Both WCTC President Barbara Prindiville and UW-Waukesha Dean Harry Muir are “very amenable” to public discussions, Vrakas said. “This isn’t blindsiding anybody.”

Paul Farrow

Farrow (R-Pewaukee), a member of the Assembly’s Committee on Colleges and Universities who attended both schools as well as Carroll University in Waukesha, said his recent interest started after conversations with constituents having issues over college credit transfers.

He also harks back to a cause championed by his mother, former Lt. Gov. Margaret Farrow, who in 2005 led civic and political leaders, including Vrakas, in pushing for a merger of UW-Waukesha with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The proposal died after several years of debate and study.

The Vrakas and Farrow effort aims to eliminate duplication, expand offerings to students without increasing budgets, create a more seamless path to credit transfer and make a four-year degree more achievable, according to the officials.

“I’m open to anything,” Farrow said. “I want to see what we can develop. Is it a merger? Is it a sharing of resources? Or is it a whole new beast?”

UW-Waukesha has a $10 million operating budget and about 1,900 students, offering the first two years toward a bachelor’s degree but also collaborating with other universities on some four-year degrees. Waukesha County owns the campus and is responsible for its buildings.

WCTC has a $127 million operating budget and offers associate and technical degrees and certificates, as well as continuing education. It serves about 30,000 students, most of them part time.

Vrakas said while the two are focusing on changes that can come to Waukesha County, discussions could lead to a model for other two-year institutions.

“We’d have to have approval at the state level to do something better, but if we do something that everybody liked, who knows?

He said as a member of the Legislature for many years, he represented both UW-Waukesha County and WCTC, and now, as county executive, he’s looking at it as a landlord seeking efficiencies, as well.

Both are “great institutions and great assets,” he said. “But it’s OK to ask the question: Could we be doing something different and doing it better?”

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ONE UNIVERSITY, ONE COLLEGE

The University of Wisconsin-Waukesha has a $10 million operating budget and about 1,900 students, offering the first two years toward a bachelor’s degree but also collaborating with other universities on some four-year degrees.

Waukesha County Technical College has a $127 million operating budget and offers associate and technical degrees and certificates, as well as continuing education. It serves about 30,000 students, most of them part time.

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