Over the last nine months, UW system leaders and I held listening sessions around the state, surveying the public and meeting with focused stakeholder groups about the future of Wisconsin.
What did we hear? First and foremost, the people of Wisconsin are proud of the University of Wisconsin system. That emotion was universal and heartfelt. People are proud of our world-class reputation, our history of educational leadership, our academic priorities, our efforts to link to the people of Wisconsin (the Wisconsin Idea) and of course, our athletic accomplishments.
But, we also heard concerns. Some worry that UW system institutions are becoming inaccessible because of the cost to attend. Some worry the UW system might be losing stature given the steady investments in public higher education made recently by neighboring states (Illinois being the exception).
Some wonder how the UW system might help with Wisconsin’s looming demographic shift; we have a growing state population with a shrinking workforce. Some wonder how Minnesota is able to help more of its population secure college degrees and why Minnesota’s average earnings are higher than Wisconsin’s. Many wonder if we could work more closely with Wisconsin businesses.
People across Wisconsin want the University to be more helpful, to be more engaged in their daily challenges and to provide leadership during periods of uncertainty and constant change.
The result of our listening tour is a new UW System strategic framework, which we will bring to the Board of Regents for a vote in August. This new framework will align our resources with the state’s greatest needs.
Our priorities include the following.
- Getting more Wisconsinites into and through the educational pipeline and keeping them here in Wisconsin after they graduate
- Expanding college coursework in high schools
- Creating an even more dynamic college learning environment
- Strengthening research and creativity throughout the university
- Reducing “time-to-degree"
- Providing every college student with an opportunity for a Wisconsin business experience
- Continuing practices to reduce costs and improve operational effectiveness.
The strategic framework forms the basis of our 2017-2019 biennial budget request. Our request will be modest, but continued budget cuts and frozen tuition cannot be sustained. When adjusted for inflation, the revenue coming to the UW System today from the State of Wisconsin is the lowest in the system’s history. Neighboring states, by contrast, are investing in their public university systems.
More than 36,000 students graduate from the UW System each year — and more than 80 percent will stay in Wisconsin. These graduates work, raise families and become productive taxpaying citizens. This infusion of highly educated graduates into Wisconsin’s workforce is essential to our economy.
Wisconsin is at a crossroads. We can choose either to invest in our future, in the future of our children and in the future of our state, or we can give the university system a lower priority and put our future at risk. The choice is ours.
We need your support. Now is the time to stand with the University of Wisconsin System.
Dr. President Ray Cross is the seventh president of the University of Wisconsin System. He also served as Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Colleges and University of Wisconsin-Extension from 2011-2014. Cross served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam and was awarded four medals for his service.