Congratulations to the entire Class of 2017! A college degree is a significant milestone.

Graduation is about celebrating your future. This is an achievement to look back on and cherish in the years to come. You have taken the challenging path of higher education and succeeded. After years of hard work and long hours of study, you are earning a prestigious degree and beginning the next stage of your life. Perhaps even more than you know, you are prepared for whatever the future may hold.

Many people helped you along your journey, providing support in ways both big and small. From your family and friends to teachers and people in your community, please make sure you take time to thank all the people who helped you reach this big day.

The vast majority of you will stay right here in Wisconsin to live, work, and raise your families. But whether you stay in the Midwest or venture out across the globe, you now hold a place in the wonderful and dynamic community of UW alumni.

You carry on the tradition of excellence expected of UW System graduates. You are the next generation of visionaries, researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs. Your actions will demonstrate the university’s value and help make the world a better place.  Your lives – all our lives – will be the richer.

I know the Class of 2017 has the potential, the passion, and the power to change our world. I look forward to seeing what your future holds.

The University of Wisconsin System plays an important role in preparing the future workforce and strengthening Wisconsin’s economy.  During our listening sessions for the 2020FWD strategic framework, we heard about the importance of collaboration between businesses and the university. Recently, I formed the UW System Business Council to enhance our partnerships with businesses and communities as we build a vibrant and promising future for our state.

The Council includes key industry leaders with varied backgrounds, experiences, and business perspectives. The group will meet several times a year to discuss long-term strategic issues and advise the UW System about how the university can continue to meet the needs of Wisconsin.

Our university system is in a unique position to make a difference and improve the lives of our citizens. The UW System is partnering with the private sector to address major questions employers and students face in today’s competitive environment:

  • What skills will businesses be looking for 10 years from now?
  • What challenges do they anticipate?
  • What classes will help students acquire needed skills to meet these challenges?

I look forward to working with the Business Council members to tackle these strategic issues. I am confident putting industry leaders in the same room will lead to productive discussions, creative solutions, and help the UW System better align with business and community needs.

 

February is Black History Month, and on behalf of the University of Wisconsin System, I would like to help kick off the annual celebration. This is an important opportunity for us to honor and recognize the significant contributions of African Americans to our state and nation.

In January, I wrote about honoring Dr. King’s legacy in our words and actions. Black History Month provides a perfect opportunity to do just that. The UW System proudly participates in this national celebration with a variety of events around the state, including guest speakers, panel discussions, and much more. You will find inspiring, thought-provoking programs at a UW System campus near you.  I encourage you participate in these events, such as several examples noted below:

  • February 4: Jamilah Lemieux will be the keynote speaker at UW-La Crosse’s Reflections of Ebony event.  Lemieux is Vice President of News and Men’s Programming for Interactive One, which is a digital new platform targeting millennials and African Americans. She is a strong champion of diversity and inclusion to achieve racial equality in our nation.
  • February 7: UW-Milwaukee is hosting a panel discussion regarding an important strategic diversity and inclusion initiative of strengthening the relationships between African-American students and faculty. This initiative can help improve our campus climate by helping create a positive academic environment on campus for African-American students and other students of various backgrounds to increase educational excellence.
  • February 28: UW-Madison in dedicating its new Black Cultural Center as it honors the past, present and future positive contributions of African Americans to the academic excellence of its campus.

This month is not only a celebratory occasion, but also an opportunity to highlight the many strategic diversity and inclusivity initiatives that are helping our students, faculty, staff, and community members create a positive academic environment and be successful participants in an increasingly interconnected world.

During our 2020FWD listening sessions, business and community leaders strongly emphasized that they want and need employees who can work as part of teams with people from different cultures, backgrounds, geographic areas, and political philosophies. Strengthening diversity and inclusion advances our nation’s history of social justice and also builds the skills necessary for success as global citizens.

I am thankful for all of the UW System students, faculty, staff, and community members who help plan, lead, or participate in Black History Month events. This month, and beyond, educational opportunities like these enable us all to learn more about the sacrifices, successes, and innovations of African Americans, and to deepen our appreciation of diversity and inclusion.

Today, we honor the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream of equality and justice for all. His words and spirit also speak as a personal call to action.

Dr. King spoke powerfully of “the fierce urgency of now.” He reminded us that we must do more than long for a world that values diversity, equality, and justice. We must work for it together. We must demonstrate our commitment to this shared responsibility, through our daily tasks and also in how we define our greatest challenges and opportunities.

As we think of our great state of Wisconsin, we must join together to make it a place with quality of life and a sense of belonging for all.

The UW System supports our state’s role and responsibility to realize a better future for our communities and citizens. That vision, which is reflected in UW System’s 2020FWD strategic framework, includes:

• A Wisconsin known around the world for its creative, innovative, talented and diverse workforce – a Wisconsin where every child crosses the education finish line and has access to a dynamic and relevant educational experience.
• A Wisconsin where anyone, regardless of past experience or financial circumstances, can learn anything, anywhere, at any time — a Wisconsin where people can get a job, change careers and adapt to new challenges and opportunities.
• A Wisconsin that attracts and retains talent from around the world AND a Wisconsin where every community is connected to the network of institutions that are the University of Wisconsin System.

Throughout the year, we must commit to honor Dr. King’s leadership, inspiration, and courage in our words and our actions.

As the fall 2016 election approaches, our message to students is simple.

University of Wisconsin System and state of Wisconsin resources are at the ready to help ensure you are engaged and can share your voice.

Please vote.

When we are young, we dream about our future and what we will become.  We are excited to spread our wings and see what adventures lie ahead.

If you have children, you have dreams for their future. You want them to thrive, be happy, and have a better life than you could ever imagine.

Often, these aspirations involve getting a degree.  For some, that is a family tradition, while others may be the first in their family to go to college. Both are a great source of pride.

As you think about the future, the cost of college may weigh heavily on your mind.  Stories about student debt grab headlines and can make paying for a degree seem daunting. You want the most value for your dollars.

We care about the cost of college, too, and know it is a priority for our families. We continue to advocate for all UW students to help keep college affordable and give you the critical resources you need to succeed.

We believe a college degree is worth the investment – and the facts support it.

  • It will help you earn more. The data shows someone with a bachelor’s degree earns about $1 million more over their lifetime than someone with a high school diploma.  Where else can you get that type of return on investment?
  • Employers want people with a bachelor’s degree. Virtually all job growth in the U.S. since 2007 has required some form of higher education. The number of jobs that required a bachelor’s degree remained stable during the Great Recession – and today there are 8.1 million more jobs that require a bachelor’s degree than when the recession began.  Unfortunately, workers with a high school diploma or less lost 6.3 million jobs and very few of those jobs have rebounded.
  • The value of a UW System education is undeniable. Students choose us over other schools because we have a world-class reputation, and it is why more than 85% stay in Wisconsin after graduation. Businesses headquarter themselves in our state because they know the UW System produces an innovative and creative workforce. Just this week, the UW System was #13 in Reuters world-wide list that ranks the educational institutions “doing the most to advance science, invent new technologies and help drive the global economy.” Our alumni tell us their UW degree has opened doors in their career that would not have been possible otherwise.
  • We are affordable. A degree from the UW System costs less than the national average, and less than all our peers in the Midwest. We cost less than Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio.  Your cost-effective degree comes with a world-renowned reputation for developing excellence and talent.
  • Wisconsin really needs you. A college education is not only crucial to your own success, it is also critical to the future of Wisconsin. We have an aging state population with a shrinking labor force and a decline in the state’s birth rate. To help revitalize our economy – an economy that supports everyone, including those without a college degree – we must get more students into and through our educational pipeline. Whether you personally attend a UW System school or not, we have a $15 billion impact on Wisconsin’s economy each year.

To help our families, we included proposals in our budget request to reduce the time it takes to graduate – the most important factor in keeping college affordable. Our 2020FWD initiatives expand college-credit options for high school students, add flexibility in transferring credits, grow business partnerships to help create job opportunities after graduation, and respond to the needs of non-traditional students, such as working adults.

College is an investment of time and money, and we are committed to maintaining the affordable, world-class education you expect and deserve. We are asking our leaders to invest in the UW System for your future, and the future of all our sons and daughters.

President Cross speaking at UW-Oshkosh

Here’s the thing. We know that Wisconsin loses as many as 14,000 graduates a year to other states. We need to figure out why and what we can do about it – especially at a time when Wisconsin employers are telling us they want and need more talent.

One promising plan we are working on in the UW System involves ensuring that every UW student participates in some kind of Wisconsin business or non-profit experience before they graduate. Maybe it’s an internship, job shadowing, or some other structured connection. There is compelling data that says these experiences can be instrumental in retaining our UW talent right here where we need it. At UW-Eau Claire, for example, 32 percent of Blugold graduates found their first jobs as a result of previous experience or employment with that employer. That’s a win-win for our UW graduates and the Wisconsin economy, and that’s just one institution.

Last week, I participated in a Workforce Alignment Workshop at UW-Oshkosh that brought together education and workforce development leaders from around the state to discuss ways to better align our mutual interests in meeting the state’s need for talent. I mentioned our new Career Connect web portal that we expect to launch this fall. It’s an exciting new way for employers to identify and connect with our graduates. Stay tuned for more!

 

WTC Luncheon CrossThe Wisconsin Technology Council invited me to their Innovation Networking meeting on June 28, where WTC president Tom Still spoke about the vital part the UW System plays in driving a vibrant Wisconsin economy. In fact, the main conclusion of the WTC’s recent report, “The Value of Higher Education to Wisconsin’s Economy,” is that further cuts in public support for higher education will harm the state’s economy.

I would like to add an exclamation point to the WTC’s findings.

With our focus on education, research and service, the UW System is – and should be – a premier driver of a strong future for the state and its citizens. We help advance the growth of workforce talent, intellectual property, and economic activity to all of our benefit.

We need to work with our current and future partners to share that message. Forcefully. And often.

 

CORE SS 2Affordability of college is one of our top priorities, and we know there is more to the equation than tuition and fees.

One area we are focusing on is the operations that take place far from our classrooms, and that includes human resources, information technology, purchasing, and budgeting. I am certain we can continue to refine, centralize and standardize practices in these operations to help reduce costs students and families.

At our Board of Regents meeting in June, we had an opportunity to outline our Commitment to Operational Reform and Effectiveness project, or CORE. This is a newly-named update to an initiative I launched shortly after my appointment in 2014.

 

UW System has long been a leader in administrative efficiency, but we have never been satisfied to rest on our laurels. CORE challenges us to recommit ourselves to search for greater efficiencies, including streamlined and shared practices and lean principles within and between each of our institutions. We have a good track record and reputation on this front, but there is more we can do.CORE SS 1

As we shared earlier this month, FY 2014 administrative costs in the UW System represented 6.2 percent of our budget. That compares to an 8.8 percent national average for higher education institutions — a strong testament to the effectiveness of our UW System. The ability to reap savings and maximize efficiencies was among the foundational reasons the UW System was created in the early 1970s. Now, we are committed to further reducing unnecessary, duplicative operations and, when it makes sense, centralizing common services within our campuses.

 

The CORE project offers us some valuable opportunities for savings. It is another part of our determination to find new ways to reduce the cost for current students and families as well as the thousands of prospective students who may be thinking about going to college for the first time or finishing out that degree that life interrupted. We cannot let the price of college deter them.

For more details, here is the presentation we shared with the Board of Regents on June 10 outlining the vision and goals ahead for CORE:

In my Student Spotlight feature at last week’s Board of Regents meeting, we had an opportunity to hear from a student whose story captures what a UW education is all about. Rosetta Washington is an undergraduate nursing major and nontraditional student at UW-Milwaukee. After earning an associate’s degree at MATC and working in the nursing field, she decided to return to college last year to expand her professional opportunities.

At UW-Milwaukee, she discovered a passion for research. As she studies to earn a B.S. in Nursing, she is working with Associate Professor Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu on increasing healthy birth outcomes for African-American women in Milwaukee. I first met Rosetta when she presented her research on this issue at UW System’s “Posters in the Rotunda” event in Madison last April. She was also featured in Wisconsin Eye’s coverage.

Rosetta was also part of the Ronald E. McNair program last summer, which helps prepare underrepresented students/low-income and first-generation students for graduate study. This summer, she will be traveling to Malawi with Professor Mkandawire-Valhmu to conduct research on the needs of HIV positive patients.

This is the UW in action – engaging undergraduates in research and tackling real-world issues that impact people’s lives.