MADISON – A committee representing the state’s two public higher education systems has recommended several ways to increase the number of Wisconsin citizens with bachelor’s degrees, a change that could dramatically improve the state’s economy and job market.

The boards of the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Technical College System this week will consider several recommendations from a joint UW-WTCS panel, the Committee on Baccalaureate Expansion (COBE).

“It is clear that through collaboration, our systems can make real progress toward increasing the number of Wisconsin residents with bachelor’s degrees,” said Regent and COBE co-chair Charles Pruitt.

The joint committee, consisting of board members, senior administrators, faculty, and students, has studied Wisconsin’s population of baccalaureate degree holders as compared with other states, determined why Wisconsin lags behind, and recommended cost-effective and collaborative strategies to expand the number of state citizens with bachelor’s degrees.

“As these programs advance, Wisconsin will benefit from a more competitive labor pool, increased public service, strong economic growth, and an overall improved quality of life,” said WTCS Board President and Regent Brent Smith.

Several of these initiatives could begin in the state’s 2005-07 budget biennium. The systems have requested a combined $1.1 million from the state to assist pilot programs relating to degree-completion options, expanded access to existing programs, and improved retention and graduation rates. The systems may also reallocate existing funds for these programs.

The committee suggests that the recommended strategies will help bring Wisconsin closer to the national average in terms of educational attainment, a key economic indicator.

Wisconsin would need to produce 72,000 more four-year college graduates by 2010 just to equal the national average for the percentage of baccalaureate degree holders in the state’s population age 25 and over, the committee found.  Currently, nearly 40,000 degrees are awarded in Wisconsin annually by all higher education institutions.

“While Wisconsin has the expertise and drive to supply the graduates who can help grow the state’s economy, this effort will only succeed as a partnership with state and local government, business and industry, labor, and other sectors,” said UW System President Kevin P. Reilly. “With initiatives like these, the state can further its work to create knowledge-economy jobs that will keep our graduates in the state and attract graduates from other states.”

The committee has forwarded strategies to enhance student success, focus on quality, reach diverse populations, provide market-driven solutions, assess progress, and provide a foundation for long-term commitment.

Realizing that one strategy is unlikely to bring significant results, COBE’s recommendations offer several programs that can be implemented at individual campuses, systemwide or statewide.

The strategies include:

  • Developing UW System degree completion programs in Applied Science or General Studies for working adult students with an Associate Degree who want or need a general baccalaureate degree to advance their careers;
  • Creating UW System baccalaureate degree completion programs for WTCS graduates in areas with high demand from students and the labor market;
  • Offering UW System baccalaureate degree programs in specific majors to students at WTCS and UW College campuses who are unable to attend a four-year institution;
  • Drafting career-focused, pre-major associate of science degree programs within WTCS liberal arts colleges that are aligned with specific UW System majors;
  • Promoting collaborative degrees that allow a student to transfer 30 credits of technical college instruction to partially satisfy general education requirements upon transfer to a UW Collegesor UW System four-year campus;
  • Reducing financial barriers for low-income students by seeking additional financial aid from the state;
  • Identifying, encouraging, and providing incentives for students who have dropped out of either system to come back and complete their degrees;
  • Developing statewide outreach strategies to inform students, parents, and employers about educational opportunities;
  • Creating a system to offer college credit for relevant work, military service, or other educational experiences;
  • Exploring systemwide and statewide approaches to online learning and other delivery alternatives to residential, on-campus degree programs; and
  • Assessing, enhancing, and promoting pre-college programs to encourage underserved populations to aspire to and prepare for college.

“This collaboration gives a new spirit to public higher education in Wisconsin,” said WTCS Interim President Dan Clancy.  “This committee’s work is ushering in a new era of student success, and gives us a collective impetus to work with the Governor and Legislature in supporting this important and critical endeavor.”

A new joint UW/WTCS committee may be created to coordinate and oversee pilot programs, organize further study of several recommended strategies, and plan for the evaluation and implementation of other initiatives.


The University of Wisconsin System is the eighth-largest system of public higher education in the nation, serving more than 160,000 students each year through 13 four-year universities, 13 freshman-sophomore UW Colleges, and the statewide UW-Extension.

The Wisconsin Technical College System serves one in nine Wisconsin adults, or roughly 460,000 each year with a variety of educational options, primarily degree and certificate programs for career-minded students, but also customized training to meet the needs of business and industry.


Media Contact

Doug Bradley UW System 608-265-0548