MADISON – The University of Wisconsin System is seeking reinvestment from the State to help power its contribution to workforce development and economic growth.

Noting that Wisconsin’s fiscal condition has begun showing signs of improvement and state revenues should be stronger, UW System President Kevin P. Reilly reiterated to the Board of Regents Thursday that an investment in the University of Wisconsin is an investment in Wisconsin.

“We are educating the workforce and preparing students to be productive, successful citizens and members of their communities,” Reilly said. “We are leveraging our knowledge, research, and innovative thinking to create new businesses and strengthen existing industries. We are helping to create jobs and preparing people to fill them. Our research enterprises address real issues affecting real people, and bring millions of investment dollars into the state.”

Reilly recommended a modest budget that calls for a $21-million investment for new initiatives over two years. Under “block grant” flexibility granted to the UW System by the Governor and the Legislature in the past budget, funds will be distributed to the universities, colleges, and extension networks to increase student success and stimulate economic development.

The Board of Regents approved the operating budget request by a near-unanimous vote.

Reilly noted that the proposed funding request does not include a pay plan for UW faculty and staff at this time. Reminding Regents that faculty salaries at UW institutions have fallen more than 18% below the national average, Reilly called this gap “the largest threat to quality for UW System institutions.”

“I submit to you that it should be our priority this biennium to uphold our promise to the citizens of Wisconsin that we will have the best talent in our UW classrooms, labs, libraries, and counseling offices working with their sons and daughters,” Reilly said.

Regent John Drew, who offered the only dissent on the recommended budget request, said he was concerned, given the improving economic situation of the state, that the University was not asking for enough funding. “We are not asking for what we really need, an amount of money that would continue the Growth Agenda, that would get more graduates,” Drew said. He expressed particular concern about the lack of a pay plan, but was assured that it will be addressed later.

Michael Morgan, Senior Vice President for Administration and Fiscal Affairs, provided an overview of the proposed operating budget request. “Underlying this request is the fact that knowledge-based industries and jobs are the foundations of a strong economy. With that in mind, it’s clear that the UW System plays a central role in driving Wisconsin toward an even brighter economic future. If knowledge powers today’s economy, then UW provides the fuel that drives Wisconsin forward,” Morgan said.

The Board heard brief presentations about ongoing economic development-related activities on two campuses.

Chris Hartleb, a professor of Fisheries Biology and Co-Director of the Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility at UW-Stevens Point, described a variety of initiatives, including the development of a “road map” of successful fish farms in the state, business collaborations to develop new varieties of walleye, and creation of a fish health education website.

Suresh Chalasani, a professor of Management Information Systems at UW-Parkside, provided an overview of projects and outcomes through the university’s College of Business, Economics and Computing. Aaron Petroski, who earned his undergraduate and MBA degrees from UW-Parkside, offered a brief demonstration of a software product developed by Ictect , Inc., a company nurtured by Wiscap.

The UW System also identified high-need capital projects at campuses throughout the state, to be funded through a mix of state-funded bonds, fee-supported bonds, and private gifts.

Presented by Associate Vice President David Miller, the UW System’s 2013-15 capital request includes $187 million in new state-supported bonding for four major construction projects: UW-La Crosse Science Labs facility; UW-Stevens Point Biology-Chemistry building; UW-Madison Chemistry addition/renovation; UW-Madison Agriculture facilities.

    • See the UW-La Crosse video on the new science facility


Another 15 facilities would be funded with $245.6 million in bonding exclusive through UW program revenue. These projects include new residence halls, recreational facilities, student unions, and conference centers to replace outdated facilities and accommodate growing student demand.

“The economic impact of the capital budget is very significant,” said Miller, noting that the recommended capital budget would generate $1.748 billion in economic activity, 13,000 jobs, $65 million in state and local tax revenue, and $589 million in wages in construction and across the economy.

Responding to Regent Jeff Bartell’s query about how capital proposals are prioritized, Miller said academic need and facility condition are the primary drivers. He added that existing facilities are emphasized before new buildings.

Regents unanimously approved the capital budget request.

Both the operational and capital budget requests will be forwarded to the State for consideration by the Governor and lawmakers.

Regents learn more about the new Flexible Degree Initiative

The UW System’s operating budget request includes funding to advance its new Flexible Degree initiative, which is intended to provide new pathways for working adults and other nontraditional students, while also recognizing competencies gained outside the traditional classroom setting.

President Reilly reminded the Board that it’s estimated more than 750,000 Wisconsinites have some college credit, but no college credential. “I am fully confident that we are smart enough in the University of Wisconsin to design a quality educational experience for that working adult, using all the new learning technologies and assessments at our disposal,” Reilly said. “I am equally strongly convinced that as Wisconsin’s world-renowned public university system, we have a mission-driven, moral obligation to do that.”

He added that work is ongoing with faculty members to devise the flexible degree in practice.

Aaron Brower, the newly-appointed Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for UW-Extension, and John Koker, Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at UW-Oshkosh, led a discussion about the new initiative.

“I believe in this program. I see it as the future of higher education,” said Brower, who will also serve as Special Assistant to President Reilly for New Educational Strategies. “It is one that will be widely accessible, personalized for students based on what they know and what they can do, and makes best use of technology and face-to-face interactions. We have to get this done in order to stay relevant in the future of higher education, and we have to do this right.”

Brower said competency-based assessments are the “holy grail” of this type of program. He added that the role of advising will be critical to its success.

Koker, a math professor who received the Board of Regents Teaching Excellence Award in 2006, told Regents that the flexible degree model offers students an innovative, alternative road to success. “We at the UW System need to provide that opportunity to the citizens of our state, but we also need to expect hard work from those who enroll in this program.” It cannot be like products sold on late-night TV that promise high returns with little effort, he said.

“Where we start is with knowing that many of our faculty are committed to the Wisconsin Idea,” Koker said. “What the faculty need to know is that the flexible degree program will not only prepare students for careers, but also to be responsible citizens who understand and contribute to the changing world in which they live. In addition to career skills, this degree must expose students to a broad spectrum of knowledge about the human experience, the natural world, and enhance their skills at communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking.”

Regent Tim Higgins expressed interest in how competency tests might measure such sought-after intangible qualities. Koker said that while he didn’t have an immediate answer about testing, these intangible skills are often developed through interaction with faculty and other students during the undergraduate experience. “That will be the challenge to create a program that doesn’t lose those intangibles,” he said.

Addressing concerns raised by Regent Jeff Bartell about faculty “buy-in” for the new program, Koker acknowledged there are some challenges. “We have to try to talk to faculty about how they can still connect with students. That’s what they don’t want to lose,” Koker said. Brower added that some faculty members will always be more enthusiastic about a new venture than others.

President Reilly noted that the process of defining learning outcomes and how to measure them – a challenge that the flexible degree program faces – is a question being addressed in almost every academic discipline.

Addressing those who might have reservations about the new program, Regent Mark Bradley said, “The message from us is, it’s going to be done. The Governor wants it done, the Regents want it done, and the System President wants it. We’re going to do it. So we have to figure out how to get it done best.”

Regent John Drew expressed excitement about the initiative. “I think we have a real chance to be a leader in providing a high-quality flexible degree,” he said.

Regent Charles Pruitt reminded the Board that differentiating the UW program from other competing products on the market will be an important component in its success. Brower said key factors will include grounding the program in the Wisconsin Idea, partnerships with businesses and the community, and basing it on UW’s shared learning goals.

Tracy Hribar, the non-traditional Student Regent, spoke passionately in support of the initiative. “Many of my contemporaries need this in the state,” she said. “I could have gone back to school 10 years sooner if something like this had been available.”

Hribar reiterated the importance of keeping a UW degree meaningful, and maintaining high standards of academic rigor and quality. “If we do that, it will make a program that serves the needs of many Wisconsin residents, taxpayers, and local community volunteers, and (be something) that our whole state can be proud of,” she said.

Regents hear Accountability Report presentation

On Thursday morning, the Board also was presented with the findings of three Accountability Reports.

UW System’s traditional report, “Investing in Wisconsin’s Future,” focuses on how the university’s strategic priorities aim to benefit the people of the Wisconsin. In addition to this report, Act 32 (the 2011-13 budget bill) required that two new additional reports be prepared for the legislature: one for UW-Madison and one for the balance of the UW System institutions. Each of these new reports addresses more than 30 specific performance metrics, about half of which are included in the consolidated UW System document.

Among other new reporting requirements, the Legislature requires UW institutions to measure job placement of graduates and the number of new businesses that grow out of university research.

“The work we have done with accountability reporting over the years demonstrates that we are delivering on the significant investment that people make in higher education. That commitment to transparency and accountability has never been more important,” said Regent President Brent Smith.

Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Mark Nook presented the UW System reports.
Among the findings:

  • Data show that Wisconsin’s public universities are preserving broad access to a college education. While 24% of the nation’s high school graduates enroll at public universities, 32% of Wisconsin high school graduates enrolled at a UW institution in Fall 2010. Access for transfer students continues to increase across the UW System, with more than 15,000 new transfers – a 3.1% increase.
  • A record 34,608 UW degrees were conferred in 2010-11, up from 33,442 the prior year. Nearly one in five of those degrees came in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Degrees in health-related disciplines made up more than 8% of the total degrees awarded. Students today are completing their degrees with fewer credits, reducing costs for families and institutions alike.
  • UW System continues to show an emphasis on operational efficiency. In 2009, the most recent data available, the UW System’s four-year institutions spent 47% less than the national average on administrative overhead per student.

The reports also identified several areas for improvement.

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Participation in study abroad programs declined slightly last year, involving 14.4% of degree recipients, compared to 15% the previous year. Freshman-sophomore retention rates to the same UW institution slipped from 80.8% in Fall 2009 to 79.6%. Nook explained how this data does not necessarily paint a complete picture. Presenting a case study from one campus with an 80% retention rate, he illustrated how in fact more than 91% of that campus’s students were still enrolled in some form of postsecondary education one year later.

The rate at which students graduated from the same campus where they enrolled as freshmen (59.3%) remained nearly flat. However, the five-year trend for both measures shows improvement, with UW System’s retention and graduation rates continuing to exceed national averages.

President Reilly reminded Board members that the reports are delivered to the Governor and every Legislative office. The reports are also used by Chancellors to design improvement strategies.

Two brief presentations provided Regents with a closer look at what campuses are doing to address issues raised in the reports.

To improve retention, Chancellor Dean Van Galen reported that UW-River Falls is working to increase undergraduate research opportunities, a practice linked to both improved retention and student learning, with particular benefits for minority students. Van Galen told Regents that UW-River Falls is also using its differential tuition to help increase available scholarship funding through the Falcon Scholars Challenge, which offers recipients $1,000 per year for four years.

Provost Lane Earns described the University Studies Program at UW-Oshkosh, a curricular reform which is committed to increasing student retention and enhancing the quality of student learning. Through a sequence of courses called the “Quest,” instructors are, for example, trained to address the specific learning needs of first-semester students.

Provost Paul DeLuca presented UW-Madison’s accountability report findings. Among the highlights, he noted that in 2010-11, UW-Madison conferred 10,099 degrees, including 6,579 bachelor’s degrees. This is the first time in the school’s history that the number of degrees topped 10,000. He also noted a 93.9% freshman-sophomore retention rate, which exceeds the national average by nearly 15 percentage points. The six-year graduation rate for fall 2005 freshmen is 82.8%, exceeding the national average by 27 percentage points.

Regarding under-represented minorities, DeLuca pointed out that UW-Madison’s retention and graduation rates have gone up significantly, but the overall numbers of minority students on campus remains a challenge.

Research, Economic Development & Innovation Committee

The REDI Committee:

  • Heard a presentation by Carmel Ruffolo, Director, Joint University Program, on collaborative economic development efforts in Southeastern Wisconsin as conducted through a joint program of UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside;
  • Heard an update from Maliyakal John of the WiSys Technology Foundation on programs and progress of the Wisconsin Small Company Advancement Program (WiSCAP); and
  • Discussed the critical role of research in undergraduate education; UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen began the discussion by focusing on the value of including research experience as part of students’ undergraduate education.  

Capital Planning and Budget Committee

The Capital Planning & Budget Committee:

  • Approved UW-La Crosse’s request for authority to adjust the scope and budget of the Parking Ramp and Police Building Project;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to adjust the budget of the Memorial Union Renovation-Phase I Project;
  • Approved UW-Whitewater’s request for authority to adjust the budget of the Multi-Sport Facility-Phase III Project;
  • Approved a UW System request for approval of six all-agency maintenance and repair projects on five campuses, including projects that focus on energy conservation and exterior development;
  • Approved a UW System request to release funds to prepare Campus Master Plans for UW-Parkside, UW-Superior, and UW-Whitewater; and
  • Heard additional information from Associate Vice President David Miller on the recommendations for the UW System 2013-15 Capital Budget.

Education Committee

The Education Committee:

  • Approved revised faculty personnel rules at UW-Green Bay;
  • Approved four proposed academic programs: the Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training at UW-Madison; the Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Science at UW-Oshkosh; the Master of Clinical Science at UW-River Falls; and the Online Master of Science in Sustainable Management offered collaboratively at UW-Green Bay, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Parkside, UW-Stout, and UW-Superior;
  • Approved the dissolution of the Consortial Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), and corollary action authorizing independent DPT programs at UW-La Crosse and UW-Milwaukee;
  • Approved a revised Regent Policy Document which clearly establishes the roles moving forward for the Board of Regents, UW institutions, and UW System Administration in planning, reviewing, and approving new academic programs;
  • Heard a presentation by the Milwaukee Partnership Academy, a PK-16 Council of education, labor, business, government, university, foundation, parent and community groups whose purpose is to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in the Milwaukee Public Schools;
  • Discussed committee priorities for 2012-13; and
  • Heard a report on the inaugural grant recipients of the 2012-13 UW System Growth Agenda for Wisconsin Grant Program.

Business, Finance, and Audit Committee

The Business, Finance, and Audit Committee:

  • Approved a four-year data analysis agreement with Amgen Inc.;
  • Heard a summary of gift, grant, and contract awards for the period July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012. Total awards from federal and non-federal sponsors over this period were approximately $1.5 billion;
  • Heard a report from Chancellor Renée Wachter and Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Jan Hanson regarding the major flooding of the UW-Superior campus that occurred in June and how their emergency planning efforts helped them to respond quickly and effectively to this catastrophic event;
  • Heard a status update on recommendations contained in the Report on Reporting Crimes Against Children and Implementation of Executive Order #54 on the status of efforts to strengthen policies, procedures, and practices in this area;
  • Heard an update from Director Elizabeth Dionne of recently completed and ongoing projects, along with information regarding current and/or pending activities of the Legislative Audit Bureau which may impact the UW System. Recently completed internal reviews include (1) NCAA Division III Athletics – UW-Eau Claire, (2) Undergraduate Academic Advising, (3) UW Policies Related to the Reporting of Crimes against Children, and (4) NCAA Division III Athletics – UW-Stevens Point.  Currently ongoing internal reviews include: ( 1) Compliance with UW Travel Regulations,( 2) Compliance with Statutes Related to Dual Employment, (3) International Admissions, and (4) Employee Payroll Information;
  • Heard a progress update from Associate Vice President Al Crist on development of the University’s new personnel systems, and from Associate Vice President Julie Gordon on development of the University’s new travel program; and
  • Discussed major policy issues and relevant topics for the coming year.


The UW System Board of Regents will resume its August 2012 meeting at 9 a.m. on Friday, August 24,
at 9 a.m. in Van Hise hall, Madison


Related: August 24 (day 2) news summary