“This year’s Measuring Up report confirms what I’ve been saying since I became president of the UW System, namely that we have many reasons to be proud of higher education in Wisconsin, as evidenced by the fact that of the five categories where grades were given, Wisconsin got an A or B in four of them. At the same time, we are reminded, by the F we received in affordability – along with 43 other states – just why Wisconsin must reinvest in higher education for the good of the state.
“This report from the nonprofit National Center on Public Policy and Higher Education finds that Wisconsin has improved in several areas over the years. It confirms that our state is among the best in:
- Enrolling students in higher education
- Supporting their academic success
- Helping them graduate in a timely manner
“I applaud UW campuses for working hard in recent years to improve retention and graduation rates, and doing so efficiently amid unprecedented budget cuts, an effort that was rewarded with an A. We will continue to make gains in these important areas.
“In addition, Measuring Up notes that our college graduates contribute greatly to the quality of life in communities across the state. Wisconsin residents consistently:
- Vote in high numbers
- Make personal donations to charity
- Volunteer their time in their communities
“But along with the good news, the report notes that ‘despite substantial improvement over the past 12 years, only a fair proportion of Wisconsin residents have a bachelor’s degree, and this weakens the state’s economy’ (page 4). Increasing the number of Wisconsin citizens who have four-year college degrees must be a high priority for the state, and the UW System has made this goal the central focus of our Growth Agenda for Wisconsin. Among other goals, the Growth Agenda would add slots for Wisconsin resident students in the university.
“The report also constitutes a stark and urgent reminder that Wisconsin must make college more affordable for students and their families to be able to fill the new slots. As Measuring Up indicates, keeping college affordable is a national challenge, with 43 of the 50 states getting an F, and with the highest grade in affordability a C-.
“The Board of Regents and the UW System are responding to this challenge through a 2007-09 budget request to the state that will:
- Make college more affordable by requesting the lowest tuition increases in 25 years
- Increase state funding for the Wisconsin Higher Education Grant, which provides financial aid to Wisconsin students and their families
- Initiate the Wisconsin Covenant
“The UW has, in fact, been a lead partner in the Wisconsin Covenant, a program that will reduce college costs and increase the college aspirations and preparation of Wisconsin’s young people. We also intend to lead statewide efforts to serve more taxpaying, working adults who want to earn a four-year college degree.
“We developed our Growth Agenda for Wisconsin to address many of the challenges identified in this report. We want to produce more four-year college graduates for Wisconsin, to attract more of these degree-holders to the state, and to use the university’s resources to grow knowledge-economy jobs for Wisconsin’s future.
“But we need to pay attention to the affordability challenge, because if we do not solve that problem, then the rest of our grades will inevitably fall. This is indeed a national crisis, and the failing grade given to almost every state should serve as a national wake-up call. Fortunately, Wisconsin is awake, and we are taking steps to fix the problem. But it will require that all of us – elected leaders, policy makers, educators, communities, businesses, families and students – work together to make the dream of college a realistic goal for more of our citizens.”