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UW System campuses at odds over engineering program proposal (UPDATE)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Three University of Wisconsin campuses in northwest Wisconsin are hoping to open a cooperative engineering program to meet the region’s needs.

But chancellors from two other campuses with existing programs, Madison and Platteville, strongly oppose the move. They’re concerned an engineering program shared by UW-River Falls, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout would simply disperse the existing pool of qualified students rather than cater to those who wish to study engineering closer to home.

“If in fact the proponents believe there’s this wellspring of competent, well-trained high school students that can be funneled into this program that will sustain it, there’s absolutely no evidence of that,” UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields said.

He believes the existing engineering programs at five UW System campuses should be expanded upon instead of creating new ones.

Rebecca Blank, UW-Madison chancellor, has said the proposed Northwest Wisconsin Engineering Consortium is “really foolish.”

UW-Milwaukee, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Stout also offer the UW System’s baccalaureate engineering programs.

The chancellors who proposed the consortium say the proposal would allow them to address business owners’ growing need for more engineers in northwest Wisconsin. They believe comments made about the dilution of existing programs are unfounded.

“It will raise the water for all boats,” said Bob Meyer, UW-Stout chancellor. “I don’t think there’s a threat, to be quite honest.”

Two local industry officials said at Thursday’s UW Board of Regents education committee meeting that there are more jobs than qualified candidates, especially in electrical and mechanical engineering. They said a regional training center would provide a pipeline of engineers who grew up in the area and are more likely to remain in northwestern Wisconsin on a long-term basis.

“The current programs don’t produce the breadth of talent we need to grow,” said Chris Conger, director of technology development for Phillips Medisize, a Hudson-based global plastics company.

A report conducted in March by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems recommended the UW System not add new programs and expand existing capacity at UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee. The board is expected to discuss the proposal again in February.

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