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Last fall, the University of Wisconsin System announced a major restructuring effort to merge the state's two-year and four-year institutions.

The complex plan came in response to declining enrollment and budget numbers. For Susan Elrod, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, that meant taking on a two-year college a half hour away.

Elrod is one of four candidates for the chancellor position at Montana State University Billings, which has a two-year school under its umbrella with City College.

That model is exactly what higher education needs, she said Thursday.

“So many of the students in higher ed come through that two-year pathway," she said. "And when there’s a direct and deliberate connection into four-year — some people use the phrase 'laddered pathways' — there’s a higher probability for students to be successful.”

Elrod visited campus Thursday, meeting with university officials and search committee members. She supported the merger of two-year and four-year colleges and universities, saying it could help keep students within one system.

She said that system should be responsive to promote student retention.

“So much of the belonging nature of the institution and its academic programs has to do with whether or not those programs meet students’ interests,” Elrod said.

Like the two candidates that visited before, Elrod said that she was sensitive to the turnover rates within MSUB administration.

“I understand the situation here and why everyone is concerned about making sure that the next chancellor comes and stays for a while,” she said.

She called the MSUB chancellor job the "pinnacle" of her professional development.

In organizing the master plan for MSUB, Elrod said that drafts should revolve around being a regional presence.

"To me, that vision is that this university would be an anchor institution for the community as an organizing framework of university partnerships, and that includes City College,” she said.

The final candidate, current interim Chancellor Ron Larsen, will go through the on-campus interview process on Friday.


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.