March 22, 2007

Representative Rhoades, Senator Decker, and Members of the Committee, on behalf of the entire University of Wisconsin System, thank you for allowing Regent President Walsh and me to appear before you regarding the 2007-09 biennial state budget bill.

As you know, the Board of Regents has endorsed a bold action plan for the University of Wisconsin System – something we’re calling the “Growth Agenda for Wisconsin.” With your support, this plan will provide more slots for Wisconsin students, maintain affordable tuition, and strengthen the state’s economy.

Our Growth Agenda is not about growing the university, it’s about:

  • Growing the number of Wisconsin residents who have four-year college degrees.
  • Attracting more college graduates to Wisconsin.
  • And, finally, creating new knowledge-economy jobs.

The Growth Agenda for Wisconsin, in the end, is about solving the silent crisis that confronts our state and our entire nation. Go to any Wisconsin middle school and look at those bright, eager young eighth-graders. If trends continue, we would expect that about 30 out of every 100 eighth graders today will emerge with any kind of college degree over the next 10 years. Without a college education in the knowledge economy, where will our other 70 kids end up? In the 21st Century, high-paying jobs will go to people with high levels of education. When a greater share of Wisconsin residents have their college degrees, we’ll be in a much better position to attract high-paying jobs, bolster the state tax base, and improve our quality of life. Today, when we compare Wisconsin to other states, we see that a lower percentage of working-age Wisconsin residents have college degrees – 25.5 percent compared to 27.5 percent nationally.

Ten years ago, Minnesota and Wisconsin were almost identical in terms of both the percentage of residents with college degrees and state per-capita income.  Today we lag significantly behind Minnesota in both measures. Between 32 and 33 percent of adults in Minnesota have college degrees, and the per capita income in that state is nearly $4,000 higher than Wisconsin. Through the Growth Agenda for Wisconsin, UW will enroll, retain, and graduate more of our traditional students. The university will also reach out to nontraditional working-adult students – taxpaying Wisconsin citizens in each of your districts, many of whom have some college credit, but not a degree.Economic success is a function of “supply and demand,” and our public university can do much more than ensure a growing supply of educated workers. We can also stimulate greater “demand” for those workers. By increasing the research capacity of UW campuses, we can fuel more home-grown discoveries in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As these innovations make their way to the private sector, university research helps spurs entrepreneurism, business innovation, and job creation.

Governor Doyle has shown strong support for the Growth Agenda, proposing a strategically targeted investment in higher education to expand workforce development, and increase the number of baccalaureate degrees in this state.

The Governor’s proposed budget provides about $21.5 million in new GPR, starting in the second year, to support new “Growth Agenda” initiatives.

And these initiatives were not developed from the “top down.” Rather, they were developed from the “ground up”, from our urban, suburban, and rural communities alike. They are initiatives that match the unique strengths and assets of our UW System institutions with the needs and priorities of the local communities they serve. That’s how planning should be done, and that is why so many people across the state – on all sides of the political landscape — have already voiced their strong support for this reinvestment.

I’d like to cite just a few examples from the business and community leadership around the state.

The NanoStem Initiative at UW-Stout and UW-Eau Claire has tremendous support locally.  From individual businesses like Silicon Graphics and 3M, to business advocacy organizations like Momentum Chippewa Valley, and the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corporation.

The Northeastern Growth Agenda at UW-Green Bay has the endorsement of the “New North,” a group of business and community leaders from 18 counties and high profile companies like AT&T, Kimberly Clark, Goodwill industries, and even our own Green Bay Packers Bob Harlan.

UW-Milwaukee’s research initiative is supported by leaders like Dennis Kuester and Tim Sheehy from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce (MMAC), Julia Taylor of the Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC), and even Harley Davidson.

These represent some of the 100 plus letters and emails that we’ve already received in support of the Growth Agenda. Add to that any number of supportive editorials from Milwaukee, Eau Claire, Manitowoc, Appleton, Marshfield, and other local newspapers.

We hope that each of you – and every one of your fellow Representatives and Senators – will hear from your own constituents about the importance of higher education, and the benefits of these and other Growth Agenda initiatives.

Our shared goal, working with all of you, and the Governor, is to prepare the state for success in a knowledge economy. Expanding student access, boosting student success, and contributing to economic growth are the keys.

Our plan to do that is reasonable. It recognizes the bi-partisan demand to grow Wisconsin, but also the taxpayer’s ability to pay. And we’ll continue to work to make the UW, already one of the country’s most efficient and productive public higher education systems, even more so.  We know that we need to be more productive as a university, and we’ve made real strides in that regard.  For instance:

  • In the last six years, we have reduced our ongoing base costs by $225 million, eliminated 1,000 tax-supported positions, and added more than 3,000 students.
  • We spend now $1,200 below our peers in state support per student.
  • Cost of public higher education in Wisconsin to its citizens is $204.38 per capita, which ranks us 33rd in the nation.
  • Our administrative overhead is just over 6 %, the lowest of all the universities in our peer group, that averages over 10%.

And we will continue those efforts to become even more productive and efficient for Wisconsin’s taxpayers.  I’d be happy to talk more about our ongoing cost-efficiency initiatives in the questions-and-answer session.

As we consider the modest reinvestment we are proposing, other nations are accelerating their rate of investment in higher education. To compete and succeed in that global marketplace, Wisconsin businesses need easy access to a highly educated workforce. We must invest today in education and research that will fuel economic success in years to come.

That will make it possible for each of your constituents’ children and grandchildren to earn a living wage and make a good life, here in Wisconsin.

Thank you for listening.

I’ll be happy to try to answer any questions you may have about our budget, but first let me ask Regent President Walsh to say a few words.

Media Contact

David Giroux UW System (608) 262-4464