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MILWAUKEE — University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross told the Board of Regents on Thursday that the fast-approaching merger of its two- and four-year campuses is “on track” for a July 1 start.

“We’re on time and we are ready to deliver,” Cross vowed.

Cross added that the System recently got a positive sign regarding the biggest hurdle to an on-time start: Approval from the national accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission.

The System received correspondence last week from the commission including a report that — while not a final OK of the merger plan — is “encouraging,” Cross said.

“It suggests that our proposal generally meets the expectations of” the commission, he said.

Yet Cross acknowledged the merger has created some uncertainty at the two-year campuses. As a result, he said the System is waiving application fees for prospective students applying to the 13 two-year UW Colleges for the fall term. Officials said the System wants “to reassure prospective students that all campuses remain open, and we encourage them to apply and enroll.”

Regents met Thursday at UW-Milwaukee. Plans call for UW Colleges to become branch campuses of nearby four-year universities. UW-Extension divisions also are being assigned to UW-Madison and UW System Administration.

Many functions will continue operating as they have been during the first phase of the restructuring in the 2018-19 school year, according to Heather LaRoi, a spokeswoman for the System. Functions such as human resources, information technology and procurement will continue to be administered by UW Colleges administration during this phase, she said.

Student applications, curricula, and financial aid will continue to be administered by the respective UW Colleges campuses.

In phase two of restructuring, starting in July 2019, “the four-year receiving institutions will take on operational planning and their centralized services will be integrated into the two-year campuses,” LaRoi said.

As restructuring continues to be implemented, students at two-year colleges “should see expanded opportunities and quicker, easier transfers,” she said.

Regents were set to take up other restructuring-related matters Friday, including the transfer of UW Colleges faculty tenure rights to the four-year universities for which they will work beginning July 1. Regents also will also vote on whether to approve the creation of new colleges at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Whitewater tied to the merger.

Cross has said the merger will improve efficiency, address declining enrollment at the colleges and strengthen the student pipeline from two- to four-year campuses.

Critics, who have included faculty and student groups, have said the plan was rushed to approval with little of their input.

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Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.