OSHKOSH, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin System’s participation in the national Access to Success initiative aims to narrow the persistent achievement gaps between students from underrepresented populations and white students, the Board of Regents heard Thursday.

While current data shows that students of color and those from lower-income families do not either enroll in college or graduate from college at the same rate as their more affluent, white peers, Senior Vice President Rebecca Martin warned Regents that these gaps could get even bigger, given the demographic projections for high school graduates in the coming decade.

“It is even more imperative that we act to address these inequities now,” Martin said.

In 2009, as one of several strategies to help address such gaps, the UW System joined 23 other public higher education systems nationwide in the Access to Success initiative. That initiative focuses on two interrelated goals: increasing the number of college graduates in each state, and ensuring that those graduates more broadly represent the state’s high school graduates, particularly in terms of race and income.

The initiative is supported by the National Association of System Heads and the Education Trust, an independent organization promoting academic achievement for pre-kindergarten through college students.

“We know that this transformation is necessary. Our Plan 2008, the Equity Scorecard project, and the Climate Study – all of these initiatives provide hard, and disturbing, evidence of Wisconsin’s struggle to educate all of its students successfully,” said UW System President Kevin P. Reilly.

Martin noted that Access to Success aligns closely with UW System’s More Graduates for Wisconsin initiative, contributing to increased student retention and graduation rates. A math course redesign being implemented at several institutions, for example, addresses one significant barrier for underrepresented minority students. The redesign focuses on increasing completion rates in developmental courses, helping more students transition successfully into credit-bearing math classes.

Other Access to Success projects include strategic plans to enhance enrollment of underrepresented minority and low-income students, as well as strategies to enhance the success of Native American students.

Martin said that changes have been made in the annual accountability reports, both at the System level and in the institutional reports, to track progress.

“(Access to Success) is also about quality, ensuring that the excellence and opportunities we provide are available to all of our students,” Martin said.

Reilly pointed out that the potential for positive change with Access to Success is significant, given that the two dozen higher-education systems involved in the initiative represent more than three million students in 378 two-year and four-year campuses. “Collectively, these systems educate almost 40 percent of undergraduates attending four-year public colleges and universities, and almost 20 percent of all college undergraduates nationwide,” Reilly said.

Regent President Charles Pruitt acknowledged that patience is challenged when dealing with such complicated issues. “But I know, and I think the Board knows, that the commitment is there from our chancellors and our System leadership to continue to make this one of their key priorities as we seek to expand the number of college graduates in Wisconsin and open the door of opportunity for more of our citizens,” Pruitt said.

Regent Mike Spector noted that without dramatic improvement in K-12 education, progress in closing achievement gaps at the college level will be very difficult to accomplish. “One can’t be done without the other,” he said.

Regent José Vásquez expressed concern that in times of tight budgets, initiatives like Access to Success could be threatened as far as long-term sustainability. Martin responded that the principles underpinning the initiative are being embedded in how business is done.  Reilly added that there is growing recognition nationally that such initiatives cannot be simply “add-ons.”

UW-Oshkosh poised to move forward

UW-Oshkosh Chancellor  Richard Wells

UW-Oshkosh Chancellor
Richard Wells

Chancellor Richard Wells told Regents that UW-Oshkosh is well prepared to support the proposed compact between the University of Wisconsin and the state, as proposed by Regent President Pruitt and former Regent President Jay Smith in their “Principles for Progress and Prosperity pdf ” statement.

UW-Oshkosh is well-positioned to hold up its end of the bargain as called for in the compact, Wells said, in expanding access, increasing productivity, and enhancing quality.

He told Regents that UW-Oshkosh, with a projected enrollment this fall of 13,600 students, is currently the System’s third-largest educational institution. Wells added that UW-Oshkosh is also the second-fastest growing university, with six consecutive years of historic enrollment growth and four consecutive years of record-breaking graduating classes.

“We must convince (people) that taxpayer funding of public higher education is a critical investment in a prosperous future, not just a big expenditure,” Wells said.

In building support, Wells told Regents that the University needs to build upon the advocacy strategy that worked for the UW in 2007-09, when the State provided new funding for increased enrollment and university research.

“It was not about us. Rather it was about our mission, about meeting the needs of the people and the communities and the students we serve. We convinced third-party advocates and the state that we are a good investment by showing them how we are highly aligned with the needs of our region and how we leveraged our resources through many partnerships and collaborations. We must continue to prove that,” Wells said

He added that in today’s economic environment, “We not only must provide better educational quality, but better educational quality at a lower cost.”

Showcasing the personal impact of hands-on research opportunities available to students at UW-Oshkosh, senior biology major Marvi Verma spoke to Regents about her experience in the environmental health internship, where she helped assess the health and safety of beaches around the state.

Adam Kostrzak, director of IT Employee Support with Yahoo!, said the UW-Oshkosh students who work in the local Yahoo! Care Center providing technical support to Yahoo’s employees, are an example of the “win-win” partnership between the university and business. The university provides highly qualified students as a workforce, while students receive the kind of experience that can launch careers.

Finally, UW-Oshkosh adjunct journalism instructor Grace Lim shared with the Board some of the cross-disciplinary collaborations of faculty and students that went into the making of the soon-to-be-released short video, “Air Boat Rescue 1: When the Ice Breaks.” The project tells the story of Norm Lee and his family, who turned the heartbreak of their son’s death in a snowmobiling accident on Lake Poygan 30 years ago, into an ongoing volunteer rescue operation.

UW-Oshkosh radio-TV-film major Trent Hilborn called the project “an incredible experience” that changed him as a filmmaker.

In conclusion, Chancellor Wells introduced Norm and Joyce Lee, and sons Colin and Perry, to the Board.  He then urged members to take inspiration from the words of Norm Lee: “There are no heroes, there are just circumstances.” 

Education Committee approves charter school replication principle

The Education Committee approved a resolution endorsing the principle of replication for UW-Milwaukee charter schools. Replication is the practice of allowing a school management organization that holds a charter school contract to open an additional school using the model of an existing school managed by that organization.

The UW-Milwaukee charter school program, which is in its 10th year of operation, currently has 12 schools operating under authorization from UW-Milwaukee.

The Board’s action paves the way for UW-Milwaukee to replicate on a case-by-case basis, contingent on Board approval, those charter schools under its authority that have demonstrated academic and organizational success. 

Education Committee hears about equity-mindedness

Reporting to the Education Committee, Vicki Washington, Associate Vice President for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, reiterated that broad awareness of race-based inequalities in educational outcomes – or equity-mindedness – is a critical component of Inclusive Excellence.

Inclusive Excellence is the UW System’s strategic framework to help its institutions establish a set of comprehensive, well-coordinated strategic actions to foster greater diversity, equity, inclusion, and accountability at every level of institutional life.

Its central premise is that unless colleges and universities begin to more deliberately and intentionally integrate their diversity efforts into the core aspects of institutional life – including academic priorities, leadership, decision-making, day-to-day operations, quality improvement initiatives, and campus cultures – they will continue to meet with the same limited success as they have before.

Washington said that equity-mindedness calls for a shift in how educators at every level of the organization view inequalities in student outcomes.  She told Regents that institutions – rather than students – should be held accountable for achievement gaps in educational outcomes.

More specifically, the differences in retention and graduation rates for students of color compared to their white peers must be understood not through perceived student “deficits” (beliefs that students lack responsibility or are not working hard enough to succeed in school, for example).  Instead, institutions, and the individuals in those institutions, should be held responsible for asking questions about the effectiveness of their practices and developing targeted strategies to address problems of inequity in student achievement. 

Campus academic plans presented

UW-Green Bay and UW-Oshkosh each presented their campus academic plans to the Education Committee.

Provost Julia Wallace told Regents that UW-Green Bay provides its students with a broad foundation in the liberal arts, emphasizing an interdisciplinary, academic approach that encourages students to be creative problem-solvers who value diversity, sustainability, and community involvement.

Recognizing the changing demographics of the region, as well as the current economic climate, UW-Green Bay is looking to increase the means by which students in the area can attain higher education credentials, Wallace said. Strategies include providing more alternative degree programs delivered online and in alternative formats; increasing collaborations with other regional institutions to provide baccalaureate degree-completion programs and applied graduate programs; and fostering a climate of inclusive excellence which values the success of all students.

Provost Lane Earns told Education Committee members that UW-Oshkosh has undertaken a significant revision to its academic plan in the past year. The revised plan focuses more directly on curricular change efforts and retention strategies, as part of the University’s commitment to Inclusive Excellence and its participation in LEAP, the Association of American Colleges & Universities’ Liberal Education and America’s Promise campaign.

Earns said UW-Oshkosh is also addressing challenges concerning financial support, graduate program offerings, and outreach to and access for adult students. Carleen Vande Zande, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Curricular Affairs and Student Academic Achievement, and Pamela Lassiter, Assistant to the Chancellor and Director of Equity and Affirmative Action, led a presentation on actions that UW-Oshkosh is taking to strengthen equity and excellence across its curriculum and co-curriculum.

In other business, the Education Committee:

  • Approved the new appointment of Dr. Cynthia Haq and the reappointment of Dr. Susan Goelzer, Katherine Marks, and Douglas Mormann to the UW School of Medicine and Public Health’s Oversight and Advisory Committee of the Wisconsin Partnership Fund for a Healthy Future;
  • Approved UW-Oshkosh’s revised mission statement; and
  • Discussed priority areas for the coming year. 

UW-Oshkosh and UWO Foundation are productive partners

In a presentation before a joint session of the Business, Finance, and Audit Committee and the Capital Planning and Budget Committee, UW-Oshkosh Vice Chancellor Tom Sonleittner updated Regents about major themes of their Campus Master Plan, including better circulation, sustainability, and parking strategies.

He highlighted the newly renovated Student Success Center, to be officially dedicated that afternoon, and its state-of-the-art geothermal heat field.

“It turns out this building will be 75% more efficient than the average building on our campus,” Sonnleittner said.

The driving theme is that all faculty, staff, and students are exposed to renewable energy, in theory and practice.

UW-Oshkosh Foundation President Arthur H. Rathjen explained the Foundation’s partnership with the university in raising awareness, building relationships, and expanding resources. The foundation assists through scholarships, expands opportunities for collaboration, and commits resources to raise funds for the support of building projects.

Rathjen pointed to the newly renovated $10-million Oshkosh Sports Complex, which is used by the university as well as local public and Catholic schools, as an example of productive collaboration between public and private interests. 

Business, Finance, and Audit Committee supports stem cell research

The Business, Finance, and Audit Committee voted to approve a motion presented by Regent David Walsh supporting continued federal funding for stem cell research.

“The real issue is how this impacts our research mission,” Walsh said.

The resolution states the UW System Board of Regents “acknowledges the great importance of human embryonic stem cell research to biomedical science, to patients and their families, and to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and supports the efforts of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research to ensure that the National Institutes of Health can continue to fund human embryonic stem cell research.”

The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, of which UW-Madison is a member, has filed an Amicus Brief in support of the Department of Justice’s emergency motion to stay the preliminary injunction pending appeal. 

Competitive University Workforce recommendations are discussed

Al Crist, Associate Vice President for Human Resources and Workforce Diversity, provided the Business, Finance, and Audit Committee with an update on UW System’s response to the recommendations of the Competitive University Workforce Commission (CUWC), presented to the Board at the June 2010 meeting.

Representing UW System’s academic staff, Donna Dalvang of UW-Superior, who was a member of the Commission, shared several concerns. While acknowledging that competitive compensation does include both salary and benefits, she urged Regents not to trade off important benefits in order to bump salary.

She also reiterated the desirability of more flexibility to address salaries, particularly given disparities between the two research campuses and the comprehensive campuses. Dalvang pointed out that while salaries of academic staff trail peers by about 8% on average across the System, the gap at comprehensive campuses is about 14%, versus the 4.5% at UW-Madison or 3% at UW-Milwaukee.

Finally, Dalvang encouraged Regents to consider having a formal mechanism for sharing best practices for human resource issues. She noted that the use of appointments and contracts varies widely by institution and even within institutions.

Randy Olson, a physics and astronomy professor at UW-Stevens Point, spoke to the Committee on behalf of UW System faculty. Olson also reiterated the disparities between the competitive salary gaps at UW-Madison and the comprehensives. “An across-the-board increase is not going to be something the comprehensives are going to look at as beneficial to them,” he said.

Olson reminded the Committee that the data being considered pre-dates implementation of furloughs. Finally, he recommended considering extension of tuition assistance to an employee’s spouse and family members.

In setting priorities, Regent David Walsh said the key issue should be salaries as compared to peers.

UW System’s pay plan recommendation will be presented to the Board at its December 2010 meeting.

Report of the Senior Vice President: Senior Vice President Michael Morgan told the Committee that the UW System will recommend $111 million for cost-to-continue in the 2011-13 biennial budget. Morgan noted that this figure is comparable to that submitted in the last biennial budget, excluding furloughs. Furloughs accounted for approximately $40 million.

In other business, the Business, Finance, and Audit Committee:

  • Received a status update on the UW System Human Resource System project from Senior Vice President for Administration and Fiscal Affairs Michael Morgan indicating that the project is generally on-time and within budget;
  • Heard a report from Claudia Sanders, General Counsel for the UW Medical Foundation, providing background information on an upcoming joint venture between the Foundation, UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority, and Meriter Hospital to establish the non-profit Generations Fertility Care, Inc.;
  • Approved a 10-year contract for financial services between UW-Oshkosh and the UW Credit Union;
  • Heard a report on the proxy season voting. The 2010 proxy season saw the filing of 370 proposals related to social issues, with nearly half of them coming to votes. Through the end of June, 172 social issue proposals resulted in shareholder votes, 145 were withdrawn, and 53 were allowed to be omitted by the Securities Exchange Commission; and
  • Discussed Committee priorities for the coming year.

Capital Planning and Budget Committee approves Kohl Center Addition

The Capital Planning and Budget Committee approved a request by UW-Madison to construct the Kohl Center Addition Hockey/Swimming Facility Project. The project will construct a three-level addition to the Kohl Center to provide a permanent home for the men’s and women’s hockey and swimming programs.

In other business, the Capital Planning and Budget Committee:

  • Approved UW Colleges’ request to amend the lease for the UW-Sheboygan campus to reflect the current operating arrangement and land boundaries and the recent co-location of Sheboygan County Cooperative Extension within the campus buildings;
  • Approved UW-Platteville’s request to construct the Porter Residence Hall Renovation project and to seek a waiver for single prime bidding; this project is the first in a series of residence hall renovations projects at the UW-Platteville campus and will renovate the four-story Porter Hall, which was constructed in 1965;
  • Approved UW System’s request for 12 All Agency Maintenance and Repair projects at eight UW System institutions totaling $19.7 M, including $12M of program revenue;  three of the largest projects implement energy conservation opportunities in eight buildings at UW‑Eau Claire, one building at UW-Milwaukee, and 10 buildings at UW-Platteville; and
  • Heard a report from Associate Vice President David Miller that the Building Commission approved $162M for projects at its September meeting. The funding breakdown for those projects is $74M General Fund Supported Borrowing, $21M Program Revenue, and $67M Gift Funds.

Photo Credit: See Xiong


The Board of Regents will resume its October 2010 meeting on Friday, Oct. 8, at 9 a.m.
in Reeve Union, UW-Oshkosh.

Related: October 8 (day 2) news summary