MADISON — Wisconsin is doing a good job of retaining its college graduates, but ranks near the bottom nationally in ability to attract college graduates into the state, Roger Hammer, of the University of Wisconsin Applied Population Laboratory, told the UW System Board of Regents Thursday.

The Regents are looking at trends in the Wisconsin population as they begin considering policy initiatives that may form the basis for the UW System’s 2001-2003 biennial budget request. An area of interest has been whether Wisconsin’s college graduates are choosing to stay in Wisconsin and whether the state’s economy is attracting college graduates into the state.

In 1997, 23 percent of Wisconsin’s population 25 years of age and over had received a four-year college degree or higher, ranking the state 24th nationally, said Hammer. The college educated population is composed both of “home grown” graduates from Wisconsin institutions and those college educated persons who move into Wisconsin, usually for employment related reasons.

“Although the proportion of Wisconsin’s population with a college education increased at greater than the national average in the 1990s, it remains a state with average educational attainment,” said Hammer.

David J. Ward, senior vice president for academic affairs for the UW System, said that earning power is directly related to educational attainment. To raise incomes, he advocates a “brain gain” approach to Wisconsin’s economic development.

“The per capita income in Wisconsin of $24,475 remains below the national per capita income of $25,598,” Ward said.

From 1985 to 1990, Wisconsin experienced a net loss of college educated persons of 32,000 through inter-state migration, ranking it 38th nationally. During that time, 97,000 college educated people left Wisconsin, while 65,000 moved into the state, according to the Applied Population Lab’s statistics.

By 1997 Wisconsin had improved its ability to hold onto its college graduates, ranking seventh best in the nation. However, in 1997 it ranked 50th in terms of attracting college educated people into the state, with only Iowa lower (rankings include all 50 states and the District of Columbia).

“Building on the research base along the I-94 corridor between Madison and Milwaukee, growing Wisconsin’s seed venture capital capacity, emphasizing Wisconsin’s quality of life advantage, growing Wisconsin’s brain power base, and making education and research a state industry all play a role in the state’s brain gain,” Ward said.

Don Kettl, UW-Madison professor of political science and public affairs, said UW-Madison’s La Follette Institute of Public Affairs conducted focus groups in Madison and Milwaukee where participants were asked to voice their ideas on what young people and the new economy will need in Wisconsin’s future.

“There is an eagerness to discuss and debate these issues,” Kettl told the Regents. He said the focus group participants “without fail” turned to the university to frame the debate and offer solutions.

The UW Regents are hearing a series of presentations from now through next spring prior to deciding what initiatives to include in the university’s biennial state budget request.


Sharyn Wisniewski
(608) 262-6448