Full disclosure: I only attended the UW Stevens Point for two years, so calling it my “alma mater” may be a bit of stretch. And admittedly, most of those eight semesters were spent not in classrooms or labs but at the campus radio station. Bet you thought I was going to say “the bars.”
Yeah, that happened, too, but we digress.
You've probably read in the pages of the Gannett papers statewide or in the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel locally about the issues the school is facing. Enrollment is down, and those students who DO attend seem to be staying for shorter amounts of time. The “Blutarski” stint of five, six more years is going the way of Latin,.
Which brings us to other majors that may be going away at Point, including history and some humanities courses. As part of an effort to trim expenses and to deal with the reality that Point can no longer be all things to all people, Chancellor Bernie Patterson is out with a plan to cut six of them, along with as many as ten faculty positions, which seldom if ever happens.
It's not going over well, and now the story is going national.
“Students In Rural America Ask, 'What Is A University Without A History Major?'' is the recent headline in the New York Times. The nation's paper of record says Point's issue is one facing other rural campuses where there are fewer students staying shorter amounts of time, with demos that show the problem is here to stay for a while. State funding cuts/spending limits aren't helping, nor is the fact the region is losing people as more folks leave for the big city, a concern throughout the state that is affecting small towns and rural school districts.
Point is not an outlier. The UW system is built on campuses in places like LaCrosse, Eau Claire, River Falls, Platteville and others who once offered smaller communities and the towns around them a place to go for a bachelor's degree without having to go far (or broke). They thrived in the 70's as the system came together but that's four decades ago.
Maine and Vermont are already confronting the issue, the Times says,”There is and there ought to be a bit of a scramble to redefine and resituate themselves,” says the head of an education group. “There's nothing they can do about birthrates. That's something they have no control about. So it's opening up different markets and offering different services.”
All this, as flagship universities in the nation's big cites flourish including Wisconsin although UW Milwaukee had to do some trimming to balance its spending plan. It lost $40 million in red ink but at a cost: the school cut 15% of its faculty in the course of the past five years.
What does the future hold for UWM and other system schools in smaller communities or rural parts of Wisconsin? We'll take a deeper dive into the subject when the Milwaukee Press Club hosts a “Behind The Headlines” luncheon, featuring UW System President Ray Cross, UWM Chancellor Mark Mone and faculty/student representatives. They'll be questioned by a panel of journalists including UrbanMilwaukee.com's John Torinus who has written several pieces about the issue. It's happening February 27 at the Lake Express ferry terminal. Details will soon be on the Press Club web site. Hope to see you there.
The UW System is one of many things that make our state unique. Where these campuses go moving forward is huge, not just for the students and communities they serve but also for Wisconsin as a whole.