Photo of UW System President Ray Cross at the March 7, 2019, Board of Regents meeting

President Ray Cross addresses the Board of Regents at its meeting on March 7. (Photo by Craig Wild/UW-Madison)

MADISON, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin System is changing the way it delivers student advising to help ensure student success, especially for underrepresented students of color, first-generation students, and low-income students.

In December, the Board of Regents entered into a five-year contract with the Education Advisory Board (EAB) to use the company’s Navigate Student Success Collaborative software to improve undergraduate retention and guide students on a path toward graduation, a key goal of UW System’s 2020FWD strategic framework.

“While this is leveraging technology to help students persist and graduate, it’s about much more than data. It’s about people and their relationships – and the critical engagement we know students need with their advisors, faculty, and student affairs staff in order to be successful,” said UW System President Ray Cross, at Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting.

The Navigate software leverages technology to allow advisers, student success staff, and faculty to provide more targeted, personalized, and timely support to students.

Using a system of predictive analytics based on key factors such as class attendance and performance, major status, and financial factors, UW System advisers and faculty will be able to better build effective support around students and provide them personalized guidance at key moments on the path to graduation. Students will be able to access mobile planning and career guidance tools to help them connect with campus resources, schedule meetings with advisers, and make decisions about their college goals.

Four UW System campuses already use EAB’s Navigate software: UW-Eau Claire, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Platteville. Now the UW System will help expand use of the program to eight other System campuses. Early stages of implementation are under way, and teams from System and EAB are expected to be on campuses to begin meeting with leadership teams later this month.

The Navigate system “helps us know when students are in trouble even before the students themselves know they’re in trouble,” said John Koker, Provost at UW-Oshkosh. “Traditional advising treats all students the same. This allows us to put students in different categories with targeted support,” he said.

At UW-Milwaukee, which began working with Navigate in the 2013-14 academic year, officials say the program is a key factor in increasing the retention rate of first-year students from 68 to 74 percent. “We’re at the point where we can see definite increases in retention rates,” said Provost Johannes Britz.

Karen McLeer, Director of Retention and Academic Support at UW-Platteville, said the technology is allowing advisors to spend more time on at-risk populations, and to connect resources with students before they have significant problems. “It’s about those students sitting out there wondering if anyone cares,” she said.

In light of persistent achievement gaps, President Cross said it is imperative on both moral and economic grounds that the UW System do something more.

Edward Venit, managing director of EAB, told Regents that improving retention rates also provides financial return on investment for institutions through increased tuition revenue.

Biennial Budget Update

President Cross provided Regents with an update on Governor Evers’ budget proposal.

“We are pleased to say that the funding proposed in his budget closely aligns with our overall budget proposal that was adopted by this Board last year,” Cross said. “It is clear the Governor shares our belief that higher education is vital to growing Wisconsin’s talent pipeline, improving lives, and providing Wisconsinites opportunities to earn higher wages, and we applaud his commitment to UW System.”

He noted that the Governor’s budget proposes to fund the tuition freeze while increasing and accelerating the UW System’s capacity-building initiatives, which are focused on supporting high-demand programs and student success. It also provides targeted investments to help address the state’s nursing shortage, enhance student support services at two-year campuses, and expand UW-Extension’s presence in rural Wisconsin.

Cross said the Governor’s budget proposes a 2% salary increase in each year of the biennium. “We strongly urge legislators to support continued investment in our employees,” Cross said.

On the capital side, Gov. Evers announced Thursday his plan to bring forth $1.075 million in infrastructure improvements for the UW System, Cross reported. “This not only includes significant rebuilding, remodeling and repair projects, but also sorely needed maintenance funding that will help keep our facilities safe, make them more efficient, and serve our students better,” Cross said. “We are very pleased with the capital budget he’s put forward.”

Gov. Evers’ budget also focuses on financial aid and student debt, Cross said, noting that it proposes a $9 million increase in student financial aid over the biennium.

“We are pleased to report that our budget proposal has received a very positive response from Republican and Democratic legislators so far,” Cross said. “We look forward to working with the Governor, legislators, our stakeholders in the private and public sectors, our faculty, our staff, and our students to advance our shared priorities.”

Faculty Spotlight

President Cross highlighted UW-Madison’s Dr. Robert Dempsey, chair of Neurological Surgery at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, in his Faculty Spotlight.

Dempsey told Regents that he originally came to Wisconsin in 1995 because of its people and its ideas. “None of us is satisfied with the status quo. We must improve the care for brain tumors, for stroke, for congenital defects in babies. That means research. To have an environment that’s open to ideas, that’s collaborative, that serves, allows that research to happen,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey is an educator and mentor of medical students, residents and fellows worldwide. He has three times been awarded the Clinical Teaching Award by UW students. He has published more than 200 scientific articles on cerebral ischemia and repair of the injured brain. For more than 20 years of service, teaching and operating in developing countries worldwide, he received the Humanitarian Award from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

“In academic medicine, we refer to the proverbial triple threat: an outstanding clinician also excels at teaching and research,” said Robert Golden, Dean of UW-Madison’s School of Medicine. “Bob is not only a paragon of this ideal, but in fact is a quadruple threat. He’s also a gifted and dedicated administrative leader.”

“Dr. Dempsey said it right: this profession is capable of greatness. I believe he personifies that,” said President Cross.

Regent Scholar Grant Awards

The Board recognized the recipients of the 2019 UW System Regent Scholar Grant Awards. The Regent Scholar program, which was introduced in 2014-15, provides one-time grants to individual faculty members or campus programs that undertake undergraduate research projects with the potential to foster innovation, entrepreneurship, and talent development.

Regent Mark Tyler, who chaired the Regent Scholar selection committee, noted that the awards have four key goals: providing summer funding support for faculty; promoting hands-on research experiences and internships for undergraduate students; driving regional economic development; and recognizing superior faculty achievements at the Board of Regents level.

The four recipients and their projects are:

  • Yijun Tang, associate professor of Analytical Chemistry at UW-Oshkosh – “Enzyme-Free Glucose Sensors Composed of Molecularly Imprinted Polymers and Nanosized Metal Particles”
  • Gokul Gopalakrishman, assistant professor of Engineering Physics at UW-Platteville – “A Rapid, Customizable Technique for Pathogen Separation and Biomolecular Detection”
  • (Joint award) Saleh Alnaeli, assistant professor of Computer Science at UW-Stout, and Dr. Zaid Altahat, assistant professor of Computer Science at UW-Parkside – “Empirically Examining the Source Code Security and Vulnerabilities in General Purpose Software Systems”

Tang said he was grateful for the strong support for his innovation from UW-Oshkosh leadership and Wisys. He also thanked his research students. “Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to make this kind of program,” he said.

Gokul pointed to increasing momentum around the UW System to support research and other innovative and creative activity. “Lots of cool work happens with faculty and students across the System. I think should do even more to foster these collaborations,” he said.

Alnaeli said students doing undergraduate research “have an opportunity to work on real-life problems that will help them gain valuable experience.”

Altahat said students involved in these projects gain skills on multiple fronts including learning how to research problems, read scientific papers, identify and implement solutions, and present their findings at conferences. “They are immediately hired after graduation,” he said.

Federal Agenda Update

Kris Andrews, Associate Vice President for federal relations, told Regents that several key federal issues could impact the UW System in the coming year: student financial aid, the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), resources for research and development, and campus safety and Title IX.

“The federal government is a valuable partner to the success of UW System,” Andrews said, noting that in 2018, the UW System received more than $900 million from federal sources.

The message will be simple during an upcoming visit to Washington, D.C., by UW System leadership, she said. “The federal government’s partnership that supports student financial aid and workforce development programs, represents a vital investment that makes higher education affordable and accessible for all students and provides a career pathway for Wisconsin’s workforce.”

Higher Education Talent Development Initiatives

Rebecca Deschane, UW System and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s joint liaison for talent development, provided an overview of recent collaborative efforts to strengthen the talent pipeline, as well as initiatives to attract people to Wisconsin and then retain them.

She pointed to the UW System’s Career Connect portal, which helps both students looking for professional experiences to launch their careers as well as employers looking for students to fill career opportunities and internship positions.

Deschane also noted an interactive online module is being developed to provide a how-to guide for businesses to help start an internship program.

See more photos from the March 7, 2019, meeting.


The UW System Board of Regents will next meet on April 4-5, 2019, in Madison