MADISON – Further cuts in public support for higher education in Wisconsin will harm the state’s economy, which relies on colleges and universities for talent, technology transfer and business development in the communities those institutions serve.
That’s the main conclusion of “The Value of Higher Education to Wisconsin’s Economy,” a report issued Tuesday by the Wisconsin Technology Council.
The 28-page report was developed over nine months by the Tech Council, which is an independent, non-profit board of about 50 business, technology, investment and education leaders that has served an advisory role to state government since 2001.
The report examines the role of Wisconsin’s public and private colleges and universities in producing workforce talent, intellectual property and economic activity, which includes one of the nation’s most robust private supply chains for supporting research and development.
It recommends building on those assets in ways that range from easing student debt burdens to speeding the flow of ideas from the laboratory bench to the marketplace. The report urges policymakers to refrain from further budget cuts for higher education, as such reductions would “harm access, affect overall quality and erode economic competitiveness.”
The report lays out six guiding factors, makes seven recommendations and urges creation of a blue-ribbon commission to consider other questions. Guiding factors are:
- Recognize fundamental differences between the UW System’s doctoral-granting campuses and its four-year institutions.
- Recognize the critical importance of talent development and attraction for the future of all sectors in the Wisconsin economy.
- Attract and retain the best faculty and researchers at all of Wisconsin’s higher education institutions.
- Keep our universities affordable and accessible for all residents who want to get a college education in Wisconsin.
- Improve the transfer of knowledge and ideas into a prosperous Wisconsin economy.
- Be aware of the competitive world around us.
Recommendations tied to those factors are:
1. In making funding and programming choices, policymakers should compare UW-Madison with its national peers and UW-Milwaukee with its peer institutions.
2. Examine ways to speed time to graduation, which varies greatly within the UW System. Strategies include improving portability of credits, accelerating programs that help high-school students get a “head start” on college and embracing best practices at Wisconsin’s private colleges and universities.
3. Support faculty tenure policies developed by the UW Board of Regents and its Tenure Policy study group.
4. Improve the efficiency of campus interactions with the business community.
5. Encourage the UW Foundation and similar foundations with ties to the UW to investigate “mission investing” as a part of their portfolio management strategies.
6. Ensure that “front-door” business portals such as the UW-Madison Office of Corporate Relations exist on each of the four-year campuses.
7. Appoint a blue-ribbon commission to consider questions related to UW System general-purpose revenue funding; administrative flexibility; campus consolidation; tuition freezes; supporting a “second” research university; supporting research and technology transfer on non-doctoral campuses, and how to get the most out of two-year campuses that make up the separate Wisconsin Technical College System and the UW System’s two-year centers.
Other questions raised by the report include:
- Within the context of higher education cuts taking place in most states, should the decline in real public spending on higher education (down 16.5 percent since 2008) be halted?
- Does it make sense for state government to provide just 20 percent of the UW System’s total budget but to exercise a much higher degree of control over its tuition, capital projects, personnel decisions and more?
- Rather than inflicting pain across all campuses, should the UW System consider closing those four- or two-year campuses that fail to attract enough students to truly pay for themselves?
- Does it continue to make sense to freeze tuition rates?
- How can the state support the continued development of UW-Milwaukee as a second research campus, especially given the importance of the Milwaukee region to the state’s economy?
- Within the context of ensuring adequate teaching time, what can be done to help four-year campuses outside of Madison and Milwaukee unleash the academic horsepower to conduct major research?
- Assuming that faculty governance and tenure remain foundational to higher education in the 21st century, how can the state ensure that both concepts are living, breathing organisms that adapt to the economic and social conditions surrounding them?
Visit http://wisconsintechnologycouncil.com/publications/higher-education-report/ for the full report and to read more about the Tech Council and its programs. Bound copies of the report may be ordered by calling 608-442-7557 ext. 21.