Bucky in the New Millennium

A new “Badger Partnership” would provide a world-class education to even more students, reduce the burden on the state budget and maintain UW–Madison’s status as one of the best public universities in the world

Join Chancellor Biddy Martin in a special

Join Chancellor Biddy Martin in a special "live chat" to discuss the new Badger Partnership on September 1, 6–7 p.m.

Chancellor Martin joined Madison Magazine in a live chat on September 1. Find it here.

For more than 150 years, Wisconsin, a state with a modest population and modest wealth, has invested enough in UW–Madison to make it one of only four public universities to rank among the top twenty universities in the world. Only two other states have public universities among these ranks, and it is harder and harder for them to compete at the very moment when states need talent magnets, capacity builders and revenue generators. To safeguard the investment of generations of Wisconsinites and the quality of UW–Madison, we need a new partnership between the university and the state.

Why should the citizens of Wisconsin care whether UW–Madison remains great? Because states have never had a greater need for quality education and for the research and development that supports traditional industries, starts new ones and creates jobs. Because the world has never had a greater need for solutions to shared challenges or the creativity that arises from collaboration, innovation and openness.

Research universities are talent magnets, attracting students, staff and faculty from all over the world and enhancing the state’s brand by virtue of their reach and reputation. They involve future leaders from Beaver Dam to Bangkok in cutting-edge research, promoting an inventive, entrepreneurial spirit and global network building for generations to come. They bring significant new revenue into their states through out-of-state tuition and other sizeable expenditures and are unique among higher-education institutions for the degree to which they do so.

For instance, UW–Madison faculty get nearly $1 billion a year in extramural research funding, with a substantial multiplier effect. Significant amounts go to personnel (jobs), purchases from Wisconsin companies, and support for new and existing industries. Employment generated by UW–Madison produces income and sales tax revenue, benefiting the entire state. Since 2000, we have created more than 1,600 jobs on non-state funds.

A New Public Model

All over the U.S., universities are working with regents and state governments to develop new business models, recognizing the revenue-generating potential of research institutions and the pressures on state budgets. New models give universities greater freedom to generate, maintain and manage their resources. In some cases, “publics” have become virtual “privates.” Michigan is an example. In other cases, the changes still keep the universities closely linked to their states.

UW–Madison faculty, staff and students have no interest in their school becoming a private university or abandoning the commitment to our public mission. If anything, we are more committed than ever to the Wisconsin Idea, to using our international stature and quality to serve citizens at the local level. But we need a model that allows us to generate our own revenue, use it efficiently and serve Wisconsin.

State support for UW–Madison accounts for only eighteen to nineteen percent of the university’s total budget. Though the state can show that its support has not decreased in total dollars, the percent of its revenue invested in the school has decreased. The state designates portions of its support for non-mission-related costs. Education, research and outreach have taken significant hits, putting quality at risk. Nonetheless, the state provides UW–Madison with significant resource—$457 million in operating support each year plus support for capital projects, most of which leverage private donations. The state supports public-private partnerships that enhance research and development in biotechnology, biomedical research, medical devices and alternate energy.

A new business model would distinguish UW–Madison from other state agencies, acknowledging that it operates in a very different environment—one that is increasingly market-driven. Competition for talent is not statewide; it is not even national, but international. UW–Madison attracts major new revenue from outside the state through research investments, philanthropy and tuition.

If the university managed its facilities projects, it could save money, assuring our donors and Wisconsin citizens that funds are not supporting unnecessary overhead costs and lengthy construction periods. If we purchased more goods through research university consortia, we would cut costs, not only for UW–Madison but for other campuses and even the state. If we could provide predictable increases for our employees over time, using our own funding, we would keep our talent.

We need to set peer-based tuition and offset the costs with much larger amounts of financial aid so students from every economic background can afford an education. Our tuition rate, which is the second lowest in the Big Ten, is already daunting for too many Wisconsin
families. It seems ironic that increasing tuition could be the answer. It is NOT an answer if we do not have the freedom to use resources for financial aid. But lowering tuition is not an option when state funding is not available. Keeping tuition where it is subsidizes families that can afford a great deal more than the current “sticker price,” which is still lower than the cost of educating a student. Keeping tuition low in the face of diminishing support from the state erodes and limits access when quality and access are vital to the state and the prospects of our graduates.

UW–Madison has no desire to charge private tuition rates; we want only to get closer to our public peers. We will offer financial aid beyond the levels at which we are currently able to provide it. We will help families understand the difference between the “sticker price” of tuition and the actual cost of tuition, taking aid into account. We will create easier opportunities for students to transfer to UW–Madison. We will educate and graduate more Wisconsin students in four years, providing them with what they need to flourish and reducing their costs. We will get discoveries and life-altering applications to the public more quickly. We will continue to support agriculture and manufacturing while helping create new businesses. We will collaborate with other campuses, helping seed research. By helping ourselves more, we will be something other than one more pressure on the state budget.

A new Badger Partnership would open the state to opportunity and protect one of its greatest assets.

On Wisconsin.

Biddy Martin has been chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison since September 2008. Reach her at 100 Bascom Hill, Madison, WI 53705, or biddy.martin@chancellor.wisc.edu.

Join Biddy Martin on September 1, 2010 from 6pm to 7pm for a LIVE WEB CHAT.

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