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The University’s Growth Agenda: A Vision for the Future (Feb 9, 2006)

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The University's Growth Agenda: A Vision for the Future

Kevin P. Reilly, President

University of Wisconsin System

Thursday, February 9, 2006

Thank you, President Walsh, and good morning everyone. Since we were last together as a group in December, the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, whose president, Dennis Jones, addressed this Board not too long ago, placed Wisconsin among the five states with the most productive public university research sectors. Jones' organization also ranked Wisconsin among the top five states with the most productive public baccalaureate and master's institutions, relative to their resources.

This is high praise, indeed, I think you'll agree, given the resource challenges we have faced. Today, I want to look ahead with you toward the future we now face, and talk about how we must build on this productivity, and the investment the state has already made in the University of Wisconsin, to grow a brighter future for all of Wisconsin.

When we were together in December, I challenged us all to "Think Big" about the university's critical role in that future, particularly in the areas of brain gain, tuition and financial aid, and our compact with the state. Part of that "big thinking" has already borne fruit with the Governor's recent introduction of the Wisconsin Covenant, which we'll be discussing in more detail shortly.

And that big thinking has brought me here today, to share with you a vision for this great university that we all cherish.   

In truth, it's relatively simple. We must grow and nurture this wonderful asset we know as the University of Wisconsin System so that the state, its people, and the quality of life in the state are enhanced for the 21st century. I believe we are at a defining moment in the evolution of the UW. While this moment is not without its challenges certainly, I am optimistic about our future. I am confident that we can guarantee student access, and Wisconsin success, for generations to come.

If you'll bear with me, I'd like to take you briefly through my own "thinking big" odyssey. It reflects and builds upon my own experiences as an educator, as provost and then chancellor of UW-Extension, as President of the UW System, and building also on the many conversations I've had with residents of Wisconsin communities statewide. It also draws heavily on our deliberations in the UW System's Charting a New Course study completed in spring 2004, as well as the Chancellors' and Regents' retreats of last summer.  It includes, I'd say, equal parts inspiration, aspiration, and vision.

Inspiration

I am inspired every day by the exchanges I have with faculty, students, alumni, parents, colleagues, citizens, and people around the country, and the world, who reaffirm that this is a marvelous university system, and they inspire me in those conversations and contacts to do everything I can to keep this university strong and vital.

Like many of you, I am inspired, too, by my parents and grandparents, who ignited in me the spark to love learning, to attend college, and to see to it that others could enjoy those same benefits.

I am inspired by the contributions of our many outstanding faculty and staff, including among them the recently departed giant, UW-Madison Afro-American Studies Professor Nellie McKay, who gave birth to a whole new field of study, and enriched the experiences of so many of our students and colleagues thereby.

And I'm inspired by my surroundings, and the legacies of their namesakes, Charles Van Hise (where I work) and Thomas Brittingham (where I live). In fact, the bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln that stands in front of Bascom Hall on this campus connects these two legacies. In 1909, then President Van Hise read a letter from Mr. Brittingham, presenting this statue to the university. It read, in part:

"To the Regents of the University of Wisconsin:

. . . It is my especial hope that this heroic figure of the nation's sublimest character may impress upon the minds of those who view it, the essence of his philosophy, expressed in these words: 'I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.'

"Let us hope," continued Brittingham, "that this monument erected to one of the world's greatest benefactors, placed where it will be seen by countless thousands of young men and women, at a most impressionable age, may be a constant inspiration to them."

Amen. It is. And in this spirit, we need to be inspiring, supporting, and encouraging all our students, present and future.

Aspiration

The poet Robert Browning wrote: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp/Or what's a heaven for?" Those of us who work within the university, and those of you on the Board of Regents, are in the reaching business.  We need to do all that we can to put the University of Wisconsin within the reach of every state citizen.

I'm sure many of you remember the eloquent words of executive senior vice president Don Mash when he spoke to this group about his collegiate aspirations - courtesy of his mother's inspiration, and NOT the Pittsburgh Steelers  - and of the importance of the UW's carrying forward the message that "college is possible."  That college is possible.

And many of us have our own stories as well.  Aspirations like these are not only good for the individual who holds them, but they also keep giving back to the society at large.  Studies confirm that, in addition to the substantial personal benefits, college graduates are more productive workers, pay more in taxes, are more engaged citizens, appreciate diversity, live longer lives, and on and on. Isn't college, then, something that all Wisconsin residents should have an opportunity to aspire to?

We can make this happen. We can extend this bounty by opening our doors to every motivated young person who wants to attend one of our campuses, and is willing to work at getting educated once they get there. If we think and act as big as this state's heart, we can find a way to fashion a Covenant program that will foster aspiration and success among our young people.

We can, and will, get down to the details about eligibility, pledge requirements, award conditions, and the like. But as we do, let us not forget what our goals are - increased access for families from middle and lower incomes, a larger percentage of our population with college degrees, and a thriving, 21st-century knowledge economy that will employ these graduates. For many, keeping the dream of college alive will excite their imaginations and motivate their preparation. This university, and our colleagues in state government and in the private sector, will build the capacity to fulfill those dreams. 

And while we're at it, let's fuel the dreams of many Wisconsin adults as well. Last fall, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago identified the changing demographics of Wisconsin's future students when it observed (quote), "the pool of potential college students will be increasingly older and ethnically diverse. The academic needs of this student population will be somewhat different, and universities will have to develop programs to meet these needs."

This report foreshadows the importance of the UW having programs in place to educate more nontraditional students if we are to improve the quality of Wisconsin's workforce, and strengthen the state's economy through our brain gain efforts. With our Adult Student Initiative, UW-Extension and UW Colleges will become first points of contact statewide in connecting adult students with the academic programs that best meet their educational needs. And they'll be partnering with our four-year campuses to offer bachelor's degrees in new or emerging fields of high demand, and to expand the adult-student programs these campuses already have.

The Adult Student Initiative is a direct response to what we have learned from the Committee on Baccalaureate Expansion (COBE), our joint project with the Wisconsin Technical Colleges, and to the Regent directives that followed that committee's report. Our campus efforts, and analysis of state needs, indicate that the Adult Student Initiative is the kind of effort that will get more working adult students into UW classrooms, help more students earn their bachelor's degrees, and create the kind of workforce that can attract knowledge-economy businesses to Wisconsin.

If that sounds like reaching for the stars - and more - than that's exactly what an aspirational university is all about.

Now, given this dose of inspiration and aspiration, what is the university's vision for fulfilling the hopes and dreams of our fellow citizens? And what strategies, in addition to the Covenant and the Adult Student Initiative, can we employ to implement that vision?

Vision

Well, I've been talking about a vision for the University of Wisconsin System since day one of my presidency. So much that some of you may be able to recite it with me by now: 

"The University of Wisconsin System should be the state's premier developer of advanced human potential, of the jobs that employ that potential, and of the communities that sustain it."

We all know that what makes this, or any other vision statement, "real" are the actions and improvements it fosters. So, think for a moment about the thousands of 7th and 8th grade students in Wisconsin, and their parents, and their growing hope and excitement about being able to go to college.  Think of curious and creative K-12 students in all grades who will need more UW-educated teachers in their classrooms. Think of our senior citizens, and our nursing homes, and our hospitals, and of all the nurses we'll need to staff them, and of the strategic public-policy thinking we need to reform our health care system for the future.

Vision without action will not change anything. That's why I want to talk to you about how we can apply our vision to generate a growth agenda for Wisconsin.

More nurses? More teachers? More pharmacists? More engineers? More entrepreneurs? I say YES! All of our directions point to growth, and growth will lead to progress for Wisconsin.

We have as many ideas for growing our student populations, and our state and local economies, as we do institutions in this System - and more, as a matter of fact! These efforts are creative, collaborative, cost-effective, and multi-institutional - even multi-state, as in UW-Platteville's Tri-State engineering initiative that is attracting students from Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.

And speaking of threes - three of our campuses in central Wisconsin - UW-Marathon County, UW-Marshfield/Wood County and UW-Stevens Point - are working together to enable more students to get a four-year degree while matriculating at our two-year campuses. Both the Tri-State project and this Central Wisconsin Connection, along with many of our other initiatives and ideas, recognize the need for new approaches to doing business in an era of constrained state support.  That's why we'll be asking the Board later in this meeting to move us to a more competitive non-resident tuition, so we can use the revenues we'll gain from that to grow both our in-state and out-of-state student populations.

We also intend to grow the research capacity at UW-Milwaukee, in conjunction with the metro-Milwaukee private institutions, and to use that research base to invigorate the greater Milwaukee economy.

We must fuel the biomedical and biopharmaceutical engines at UW-Madison so that we not only discover cures for disease, but also create spin-off companies and high-wage jobs.

We will help UW-La Crosse with its "tuition-driven" growth plan, and we will support UW-Stout's emergence as "Wisconsin's Polytechnic."

We will explore new ways at UW-Parkside and other campuses to increase our retention and graduation rates.

We will grow the economy of the Fox Valley through UW-Oshkosh's Baccalaureate Completion Program, and UW-Green Bay's plans to expand its student body.

Each of these campus-specific opportunities, and ideas that are coming forward from the rest of our institutions as we plan our 2007-09 budget request - and beyond - reflect the wisdom of a system that can empower its individual campuses to find - and mine - their own market niche, their own distinct contribution to the mosaic that is the UW System. This is where our student access agenda begins to morph into Wisconsin Success. 

In short, we will move Wisconsin where it needs to go. And when we're done - or rather, when we stop to catch our breath five or 10 or 15 years from now - we intend to have closed the gap between our state per capita income and that of Minnesota!

We expect to have increased by significant thousands the number of baccalaureate degree holders in this state so that we're nationally competitive in that regard.

We expect to have brought the state GPR support per student in our System within 95 percent of the national average;

And we intend to have built a thriving 21st century knowledge economy, and a high quality of 21st century life here.

Of course, these goals do require a reinvestment from the state, and we are anxious to join with our state government partners in an agenda that will provide a substantial return on that investment - a better economy, more tax revenues, increased volunteerism, less crime, clean air and water, high-paying jobs, and a quality of life second to none. And a public university system that remains the envy of this nation!

So, I guess you might call this a "high aspiration" plan for our future. I hope you find it inspiring as well. This is not just about the 2007-09 biennium, or a five-year strategic plan, or even a proposal for the next decade. And yet it IS about all that and more.

I intend to work with all of you to develop this growth agenda in a way that can be embraced by our political leadership, our students, faculty and staff, and our fellow Wisconsin citizens.

I believe - I hope -- this is a vision and a direction that we all share, and we all can support.  If we're successful in getting buy-in for it, state government will again recognize the UW as its best investment in Wisconsin's future. Our parents and students will understand that college is possible, and keep the pledge to prepare well to attend the UW. And our universities will produce more graduates, and drive more cutting-edge research that will better serve people and communities around the state, and indeed, the world.

The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote (quote): "The task of a university is the creation of the future, as far as rational thought and civilized modes of appreciation can effect the issue." (end quote) Let's use this vision of growing service to Wisconsin to get on with that task.

Now it's time to get on with the task of shaping what we hope will be one very positive element of our collective future - the Wisconsin Covenant. So, I'll turn to Sharon Wilhelm and Freda Harris to talk with you about the Covenant, and then we'll follow with a discussion of your thoughts about all of this after their presentation.

Sharon . . .


Related:

Feb. 9 Regents meeting news summary

Tuition Fact Sheet

Growth Agenda website