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UW System officials propose new state-university compact

RELEASED: Aug. 10, 2010

EAU CLAIRE — University of Wisconsin System officials today called on elected leaders in Wisconsin and their constituents to consider creating a new compact between the state and its public university.

That proposed new compact, outlined in a report titled "Principles for Progress and Prosperity," released in July by the UW System Board of Regents, calls for the state of Wisconsin to provide the UW System with stable funding, management flexibility and a commitment to expanding access. In return, the UW System pledges to provide that access, facilitate job creation, boost productivity and enhance quality across the system.

UW System officials discussing the compact at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire today included system President Kevin Reilly, Board of Regents President Charles Pruitt, and UW-Eau Claire student and Regent Aaron Wingad. Chancellors from western Wisconsin UW campuses also attended, including Brian Levin-Stankevich from UW-Eau Claire, Charles Sorensen from UW-Stout and Dean Van Galen from UW-River Falls.

"Principles for Progress and Prosperity," written by Pruitt and former Board of Regents President Jay Smith, says strategic commitment by the state to the UW System, in exchange for measurable efforts by the university to produce more college graduates, create more jobs and increase access to its programs, will lead to an improved economy for Wisconsin.

The release of "Principles for Progress and Prosperity" is intended to start a discussion among Wisconsin residents and their leaders about the value of higher education in the state of Wisconsin, Reilly said, noting that states across the country are realizing the importance of using their universities as partners in economic development.

"States that figure out how to use their universities to do that will advance," Reilly said. "States that don't will fall behind. We want Wisconsin to jump ahead."

A comparison of per capita income in Wisconsin and Minnesota illustrates the need for a new approach to economic growth in Wisconsin, Reilly said, noting that per capita income in Minnesota exceeds the average in Wisconsin by $5,000. If Wisconsin's per capita income were raised to match Minnesota's, it would result in $29 billion more in earnings each year.

Now is an important time for the discussion about Wisconsin's relationship with its public university because the state is at a crossroads where it must decide how to thrive in a global economy, and the university is poised to help, Pruitt said.

"Clearly there also is a sense of urgency to this in that it's an election season, and it's important to have these issues on the table," he said, adding that voters in Wisconsin must determine where the UW System falls among all the various state budget priorities.

"We need to have discussions about the importance of the UW System in relation to other issues in the state going forward," Pruitt said.

The regents' report describes the trend of decreased state support for the UW System, noting that 30 years ago more than 12 cents of every Wisconsin tax dollar went to the system and represented 46 percent of the university's annual budget. Today less than 9 cents of every tax dollar goes to the system and constitutes less than 24 percent of its budget.

"In effect, the state of Wisconsin has become a minority shareholder in its own public university," the report states.

It's time the UW System no longer be placed at the "end of the line" when it comes to state funding, Reilly said, noting that for too long the thinking has been that the university can increase tuition to raise the support it needs.

"But the more we have to do that, the more we are going to drive away those students who need to earn their college degrees," Reilly said.

According to "Principles for Progress and Prosperity," the UW System's strategic plan to help the state economy — called the Growth Agenda for Wisconsin — can address the supply-and-demand challenges Wisconsin now faces by increasing the state's supply of college-educated workers, which in turn will stimulate faster job growth and higher incomes, resulting in a broader tax base. The broader tax base will provide reliable support for core public services and reduce the tax burden on individuals and businesses, the regents' report states, ultimately leading to an "upward spiral" in the state's economy.

The UW System also is addressing the state's demand for jobs through its expanded emphasis on academic research and development, the report says. It states that academic research and development is a $1.1 billion industry in Wisconsin, providing more than 32,000 jobs.

The UW System, which currently has a record 179,000 enrolled students, is committed to helping Wisconsin by producing more graduates, creating more jobs and continuing to keep its costs down, said Reilly, noting that the system currently spends 57 percent less than the average public university on administration and 28 percent less than the Midwest average on facilities maintenance.

In its budget proposal for the 2011-13 biennium, the UW System will be asking for help in fulfilling its commitment to the state, Reilly said.

"We do need the state to make some level of increased commitment to the UW System," he said.

Pruitt said the fact that he and Smith, co-authors of "Principles for Progress and Prosperity," were appointed to the Board of Regents under both Democratic and Republican governors underscores that a new compact between the UW System and the state is not a partisan issue.

"This discussion needs to be about the state as a whole and what makes sense to keep the university driving and improving the economy in Wisconsin," Pruitt said.

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JP/MR/DW

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