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Common-sense reasons to reject the proposed UW-Extension mission revision

by Noel Radomski, WISCAPE Director and Associate Researcher | Dec 10, 2015

UW System Resolution I.1.i, “Second Reading and Approval of the proposed UW-Extension select mission change,” will be discussed and a voted upon at the Thursday, December 10th, UW System Board of Regents Education Committee meeting. If the Education Committee approves the resolution, it will be forwarded, discussed, and voted upon at the Friday, December 11th, UW System Board of Regents meeting. The proposed revision is not an incremental change. It includes four, far-reaching changes which would fundamentally alter UW-Extension, waste scarce resources, adversely affect future relationships and collaborations with the UW System’s 26 institutions, and catalyze opposition from external stakeholders. And, surprisingly, UW System and UW-Extension leadership have ignored and/or dismissed advice, warnings, and opposition from a majority of chancellors from the UW’s regional and doctoral universities.

The first, deep-rooted change would reverse the 108-year legacy that is known and replicated ​across the United States and in other countries: UW-Extension’s service to the state -- the Wisconsin Idea -- would change to service to the “…people of Wisconsin and Beyond…” The second sweeping change would go against 40 years of policy decisions by the UW System Board of Regents of integrating UW-Extension’s instructional and research faculty and specialists into campuses (see here, here, here, and here). The third, ill-advised change would create redundancies, heighten inefficiencies, and replicate what the 26 UW System colleges and universities already do by authorizing UW-Extension to offer  “…professionally-focused and cross-disciplinary competency-based credit certificates, associate degrees, and baccalaureate degrees in the area of business and management.” The fourth, shocking change adds a new mission component of conducting research​ -- creating a third research university in the UW System -- which would be extremely costly, enter an arena where resources are diminishing, and replicate existing research activities by the “integrated” UW-Extension/campus faculty.

The UW System Resolution I.1.i also includes Appendix A, which lists the questions received and UW-Extension’s responses to concerns expressed. Sadly, it includes a troubling statement:

After careful examination of the concerns, UW-Extension leadership concluded that it did not wish to submit any edits or changes to the proposed mission statement reviewed by the Regents at the September first reading.

Many concerns expressed by UW System chancellors about the proposed mission statement revision have not been adequately addressed.

UW System leaders argue that UW-Extension needs to offer for-credit degree programs, because there are no willing collaborators among the UW System’s regional and doctoral universities. This is simply not true. For instance:

  • A chancellor emailed President Cross to express interest in offering a competency-based certificate and a four-year degree program.
  • A chancellor noted that at a UW System Deans’ meeting there was extensive discussion about adding a business degree to the UW Flex Option program, but only in collaboration with other UW System institutions.
  • A chancellor welcomed collaboration with UW-Extension/UW Colleges to increase the reach and address the needs of adult learners through online and distance-delivered certificates and degree programs.

Appendix A ​also says that if UW-Extension is granted authority to offer for-credit degrees, it would not duplicate existing UW System degree offerings, no new resources would be allocated, and existing faculty would design and teach the new courses. Several chancellors have expressed concerns regarding this plan. For example:

  • A chancellor questioned the absence of a clear answer on which qualified faculty would design, control, and teach the new courses, which would be reviewed by the Higher Learning Commission before accreditation is granted.
  • A chancellor asked to see a financial statement associated with the programs, so a data-informed decision could be made.
  • A chancellor asserted that this would position UW-Extension as a competitor with UW System institutions, not an “extension.”
  • A chancellor noted that UW Flex enrollment is below projected numbers and questioned spending more money when current demand does not appear to support it.

According to a January 4, 2014, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article, more than $8 million in UW System funds were used to launch the UW Flexible Option. On the other hand, a September 11, 2014, UW-Extension/UW Colleges news release noted, “By the end of September, about a dozen students will have earned a degree through the UW Flexible Option program.” Eight million ​invested to graduate 12 students? Is the cost per student too high?

Finally, the resolution and supporting documents did not address chancellors’ concerns about adding a research component to the UW-Extension mission. For instance:

  • A chancellor was not clear on the need for UW-Extension to conduct research, suggesting it would strain resources and make it more difficult for UW-Extension to achieve other elements of its mission.
  • A chancellor poignantly asked if adding to the UW-Extension’s mission would result in a lack of focus and a diminished commitment to the Wisconsin Idea.
Why didn’t UW-Extension and UW System leaders address the chancellors’ concerns before finalizing the resolution and seeking approval by the UW System Board of Regents? If the proposed UW-Extension mission revision is approved, it could reduce enrollments and tuition revenues at UW Colleges campuses and at the regional and doctoral universities, when institutions can ill afford these detrimental impacts.

Based on these serious concerns not addressed by UW-Extension and UW System leaders, the prudent action by the UW System Board of Regents Education Committee members and the full UW System Board of Regents is to reject UW System Resolution I.1.i at their upcoming meetings.

Update: ​On December 11, 2015, the UW System Board of Regents approved the proposed UW-Extension revised mission.

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